Shanghai Meatballs

Celebrate Chinese New Year by making these crisped and sauced meatballs.

Recipe: Shanghai Meatballs

Meatballs

1 lbs. ground pork

6 slices bacon, chopped small

3 tbsp. green onions, diced

1 tbsp. fresh ground ginger

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. tart juice (cherry, cranberry)

¾ cup Panko bread crumbs

¼ tsp. white pepper

½ tsp. salt

Canola oil for frying

 

Sauce

1 ½ cups water

4 tbsp. sugar

4 tbsp. vinegar (rice preferred)

2 tbsp. cornstarch

2 tbsp oil

1 tbsp. tart juice

1 ½ tbsp. soy sauce

Dash of red pepper for spiciness

 

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients into a large bowl. Mix with your hands.
  2. Form mixture into ½ inch balls (about 35).
  3. Place balls onto a baking sheet lined with waxed paper.
  4. Refrigerate balls while the oil heats.
  5. Add oil to fill wok 1/3 of the way full; turn heat to medium-high.
  6. Working in batches, fry the meatballs. Add 7 meatballs at a time to the hot oil.
  7. Drain on paper towels after removing from oil.

Sauce Directions

  1. In a bowl mix together all ingredients.
  2. Add mixture to a wok and bring to a boil until thickened.
  3. Toss meatballs in the sauce until coated. Serve.

Chinese Meatballs

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El Azteco’s Topopo Salad Recipe

Thanks to Jessie Voigts, the guru behind WanderingEducators, for sharing this easy, inventive Mexican-inspired salad recipe.

Topopo salad

When I was in college at Michigan State University, we used to go to El Azteco Restaurant for our Sunday dinners, when the cafe was closed. El Az offered bean and cheese burritos at a fair price for a college student in the late 1980s: $1.50 each. Since I graduated many moons ago, they’ve moved to a better location – and I’m able to afford more than a bean and cheese burrito.

One of my favorite dishes at El Az is the Topopo Salad. Piled high on a plate, it’s a crunchy green salad with chicken and peas, limey dressing, refried beans, and cheesy chips. It’s very easy to make (and adapt) at home. Use what you have – tonight, I was out of cilantro (what?!), but did have some lovely colored sweet peppers to throw in.

The recipe is flexible in terms of ingredients and quantity. It is not good left over, so if you think you chopped too much, only put the dressing on what you’ll eat tonight.

 

Recipe
Dressing:
Equal parts olive oil, lime juice, and white wine vinegar (rice vinegar works well, too)
Minced garlic, to taste
Salt, to taste

Mix this all up in a mini food processor or jar. Now, I like my salad lightly dressed, while our daughter likes more dressing on hers. Keep the jar handy for those that like more.

Salad:
Iceberg lettuce (I know, this is the only time I buy this lettuce. Trust me – you need crunchy lettuce)
Cooked chicken, chopped
Cilantro, chopped
Tomatoes, chopped
Avocado, chopped (or guacamole, if you feel like making it)
Green onions, chopped
Frozen peas, thawed and crisp (or edamame, if you have them and would like extra protein)
Colored peppers, chopped
Salad
Beans
You can use a can of refried beans, or, you can fall in love with Orangette’s creamy black beans and use those instead, like I do (if you make one can, instead of four at a time for her larger recipe, you can finish the beans in the time it takes to chop everything).

Chips with beans

Tortilla Chips
Grated Cheese (we love the Tillamook extra sharp. Quality is important here)
Chips with cheese

Directions:

  1. Get your beans ready, either by cooking the black beans or heating up the refried beans.
  2. Chop everything for your salad. Combine in a large bowl with the dressing, quantity to taste.
  3. Spread enough tortilla chips on a pan for whoever is joining you for dinner. Top with plenty of shredded cheese, and slide into a 350 oven for 5-8 minutes. You want the cheese gooey, not crispy.
  4. Divide the chips up onto the plates. Top with beans (spread them around a bit) and then you can go one of two ways, depending on how you like it:
  5. Pile the salad on top of the chips and beans (photogenic, Instagram-ready)
  6. Put the salad next to the chips and beans (no wet chips, more scooping of prized ingredients)
  7. Now is the time to have people add things they love but others don’t – avocado, banana or jalapeno peppers, olives, chopped onion, etc.
  8. Serve and enjoy. This salad is the best thing you can have in the winter. Or summer. Or spring or fall. It’s perfect for a crowd, and I always try to keep the ingredients on hand for when our teen has friends drop by and they are hungry enough to devour everything in my kitchen. El Azteco knew what they were doing…

 

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No-Bake Pecan Pie Balls

All the flavor of pecan pie without all the work — or extra sugar.

Energy bites_1

That’s the idea behind these pecan pie balls. Over the holidays, I was looking something lighter than your typical sugar-spiked pecan pie for dessert, so I decided to take a cue from my No-Cook Cocoa Granola Bites recipe. This vegan version has only a few ingredients and you can mix-and-match many of them to make these your own.

Evergy bites_2

I dipped my first batch into chocolate but the second time I never had a chance to — my kids polished them off first.

Energy bites_3

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes + soaking + chilling

Servings:14, 1″ balls

Ingredients

1 cup pitted dates

1/4 tsp. almond extract

1 cup pecans (or any combination of nuts)

1/2 tbsp. honey

1/3 cup oatmeal

2 full graham crackers or 4 tea biscuits

1 1/2 tbsp. tart juice, like cherry or use water

Chocolate candy coating (opt.)

 

Directions

  1. Soak the dates in water spiked with the almond extract for 1 hour (or overnight).
  2. Drain the dates and place in a food processor along with the remaining ingredients (minus the candy coating). Note: You may want to add more oatmeal or juice to get the right consistency — the batter will be sticky.
  3. Refrigerate for 1 hour (or freeze for 15 minutes). Form the mixture into 14, 1″ balls; I used a cookie scoop.
  4. At this point you can leave the balls plain or roll them in chopped nuts or cocoa powder. To coat with chocolate, refrigerate for another hour. Melt 1 cup candy coating in the microwave. Working quickly, dip each ball into the chocolate and then place on waxed paper to set. Refrigerate until you’re ready to start eating.
  5. Store for up to 5 days.

 

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Quick Baked Hot Chocolate

Baked hot chocolate 1

Want to impress Santa with something besides cookies this year? Tried baked hot chocolate.

I first tried this wanna be lava cake in a cup at Moxie’s, a popular Cleveland restaurant. The enormous mug held a gooey, chocolatey center. I’ve slimmed down their version so you can make it in a teacup–in the microwave. There’s no need to spray the cup beforehand but you should mix it in a bowl before pouring into the mug. If you’re using a regular-sized mug double the ingredients. This recipe is perfect for Santa’s little helpers to make.

Baked hot chocolate 3

Baked Hot Chocolate Mini Microwave Style

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1/8 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 ½ tbsp. sugar (1/2 tbsp. more if you like it sweet)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/8 cup + ½ tbsp. milk
  • 2 drops extract (peppermint, vanilla or almond)
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Hershey’s kiss (or a dollop of Nutella)

 

Directions:

  1. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl; whisk in the milk and oil.
  2. Pour into mug (it will not be full). Unwrap Hershey’s kiss and push it into the middle of the batter (or use Nutella).
  3. Cook for 90 seconds in the microwave. (Microwaves cook differently; my microwave has low wattage. You may want to start with 60 seconds and cook for 30 seconds more, if needed.)
  4. Cool for 60 seconds. Top liberally with whipped cream.

Baked hot chocolate 2

 

 

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Quick Dark Chocolate Orange Mini Tarts

Dark chocolate mini tarts

Have you ever needed to whip up a rave-able dessert but you only have a few minutes? Yeah, I’ve been there, too.

 

I came up with these mini tarts last Thanksgiving. I needed something with dark chocolate for dessert but I didn’t have time to bake up a pie or a cake. Plus, I wanted something bite-sized. These mini tarts come together quickly – your kids can even do these while you’re cooking something else. The key to making these mini tarts ah-inducing is all in how you plate them. One approach: Drizzle the plate with chocolate syrup (Hershey’s is fine), add a swirl of raspberry jam, and pair with an assortment of other sweets. Or, top each one with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, dust with cocoa powder, and insert an orange sliver.

Dessert assortment

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes + chill time*

Servings: 30 mini tarts

 

Ingredients

2 packages of Mini Fillo Shells (15 each; I like Athens brand)*

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup orange zest

Dash of salt

Whipped cream (optional)

 

Directions

  1. In a glass bowl melt together the cream and chocolate chips in the microwave for 90 seconds; stir until smooth (some microwaves may take longer – be careful not to burn).
  2. Add in orange zest and salt. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
  3. Pour filling into shells. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
  4. To serve: Garnish with fresh whipped cream and dust with cocoa powder.

 

*Note: You can either use the shells thawed and right out of the package. Or, for a crisper exterior, bake them for 9 minutes at 350°. Cool, then fill.

Orange chocolate mini tarts

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Easy Brain Cake

Forget vampires, zombies are all the rage now. So are brains. For eating, of course.

Brain cake

Whether you’re trying to do something memorable for Friday the 13th, or you need snacks while watching iZombie or The Walking Dead, this is the cake.

 

Ready to construct a brain cake? It’s actually easy and fun to make. Promise. We even did our own fondant to create the twists and turns on the brain.

Brain cake constructing

Recipe

Prep time: 45 minutes + baking

 

Ingredients

1 red velvet cake mix

1 1/2 cups red jam (like raspberry, seedless)

 

Homemade fondant

1 10.5-ounce bag mini marshmallows

2 tbsp. butter

1 2-lb. bag powdered sugar

Canola oil

Brain cake 2

Directions

  1. Put together the fondant first so it can refrigerate while you’re baking the cake. To make the fondant, heat the marshmallows and butter in a large glass bowl in the microwave for 45 seconds. Stir and heat again in 30-second intervals until fully melted. Cool slightly.
  2. Using a hand-held mixer add powdered sugar to the marshmallows 1 cup at a time. Beat after each addition until the mixture becomes stiff (you probably won’t need the whole bag).
  3. Coat a cutting board with powdered sugar and knead the mixture until it forms a smooth ball. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  4. Make red velvet cake mix according to package directions. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper to make the cake easier to move later (cut a circle out of the parchment to position on the bottom of the pan–coat with cooking spray). Bake the batter in a 8″ or 9″ circular cake pan. Cool.
  5. Use a sharp knife to cut two sides of the red velvet cake to create an oval shape. Eat the extras.
  6. Heat half of the jam to make it easier to spread. Use a pastry brush to cover the cake with the jam.
  7. Time to make brain matter! Roll out 6″ snakes out of the fondant dough (great kid job). It helps to cover your hands in powder sugar. Apply the snakes in zigzag designs on the cake. The way we put the cake together is we had one person rolling out dough snakes while the other applied them. For the person applying the fondant, put a little canola oil on your hands to make the dough more pliable. We pulled up a comic book picture of a brain to guide us in applying the fondant.
  8. Once all of the brain matter is on the cake (and you may not need all of your fondant) brush it again with the rest of the heated jam.
  9. Place the brain on a plate (remember you still have parchment paper on the bottom to make it simpler to handle). Refrigerate until ready to serve. Offer to startled zombie fans.

Note: We trimmed a little too much red velvet cake off of our “brain.” No worries. We used a bit of regular white icing to glue the cake back into an oval shape.

 

Brain cake 3

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Easy Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato soup in bowl

Growing up I never liked tomato soup. Maybe it’s because tomato soup so often is thought of–and served–as the thin, salty version that comes right out of a can. A few weeks ago my husband and I escaped for a brunch date at Nosh Eatery just outside the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the soup of the day? Tomato soup. We decided to give it a try.

At NoshSimple, fresh and soothing the tomato soup at Nosh had a thicker consistency perfect for dipping when paired with rye sourdough crisped with sharp American cheese inside. We’ve started a tradition since then of making tomato soup with grilled cheese every Saturday. We’ve finally come close to Nosh’s.

Tomato soup at Nosh

Next step? How to entice kids to give it a try. My first approach is not to overwhelm my kids with a big bowl. I gave them a small amount and encouraged them to use it to dip. So far, my kids have gradually been asking for more soup. It helps that we’ve been having it…every weekend.

Tomato soup for kids

 

Recipe

Prep time: 30 minutes including cooking

Servings: 6-8

1 white onion, diced

1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil

2 28-oz. cans whole plum tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)

2 cups chicken broth

1 clove garlic, minced

4 tbsp. fresh basil, divided

1/4 tsp. sugar or agave

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika (mild) or cayenne powder (if you like it hot)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Optional

Fresh tomatoes, diced

Prepared pesto

Parmesan cheese

 Tomato soup cooking

Directions

  1. Bring the oil to medium heat in a large soup pot and add the onions. Saute until translucent (about 5 minutes) – I cover the pot for the last 3 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and saute for another 2 minutes.
  3. Pour in both cans of whole tomatoes along with 3 tbsp. basil. Heat until it just simmers. Use a mixing stick to puree the tomatoes.
  4. Add in the chicken broth and fresh diced tomatoes (if using). Blend again with the mixing stick.
  5. Sprinkle with seasonings listed and adjust to taste. Cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Serve with a dollop of pesto and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and the remaining fresh basil.
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Gerbeaud Slices from Hungary

Gerbeaud Slices

“Mom, my country is Hungary,” exclaimed my middle schooler as we were talking about her day. “That’s what I was assigned for my project. Can we make the class treats from Hungary?” Love it. I’ve always believed that studying the world through your taste buds can be one of the best approaches to learning. Together we looked up Hungary’s history together and flipped through online images of the county–and its food.

We settled on Gerbeaud slices (Gerbeaud-Szelet), a yeasted dough that hugs sweetened walnuts between its layers, which are held together by sticky apricot jam–the whole concoction is coated with a silky finish of dark chocolate.

One of the quintessential coffee houses in Budapest, the Gebeaud Cafe dates back to the late 1800s and a talented pastry chef by the name of Emil Gerbeaud. He’s credited with creating these slices, which capture the flavor of fine European pastries. Even better you can cut them up into small pieces to serve as samples for 30+ hungry kids who want a bite of Hungary.

 

Recipe

Makes 18-24 slices

Ingredients:

Dough

3 3/4 tsp. (around 1 3/4 envelopes) dry yeast

1/2 cup milk (heated to warm)

3 egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 tsp. almond extract

3 1/2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

14 tbsp. butter (not margarine), cut into cubes

 

Filling

1 cup walnuts

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup apricot jam

 

Chocolate icing

4 ounces (1/2 cup) bittersweet chocolate

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1 tbsp. butter

Dash of salt

1/2 tsp. dark cocoa powder (opt.)

 

Directions:

Dough

  1. Stir yeast into heated milk and allow to sit until dissolved (about 3 minutes). Whisk in egg yolks, vanilla, and almond extract.
  2. In a food processor, mix together dry ingredients, including flour, sugar, and salt. Add in butter and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Then pour in the yeast.
  3. Process until the dough becomes sticky–akin to sugar cookie dough.
  4. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface and then seal in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Filling

  1. Pulse the walnuts and sugar together in the food processor until they resemble cornmeal.

Assembly

  1. Coat a 9×13″ pan with cooking spray. Add a piece of parchment paper (or waxed paper). Spray again and spread with flour. Tap out any excess flour.
  2. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time (the other two remain sealed), roll out the piece into 9×13″ using as little flour as possible. Heat the jam until warm.
  3. Place the dough into the pan and spread with 1/2 cup jam and then sprinkle with half of the walnut mixture.
  4. Repeat using the second piece of dough and the remaining jam and walnuts. Use the third rolled out piece to top. Allow the assembled dough and filling rest in a warm place for 1 hour (don’t worry if you don’t see the dough rising; it’s not supposed to).
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is just barely browned. Cool for 1 hour.
  6. Meanwhile, make the icing by mixing sugar and water in a small saucepan. Boil until the mixture thickens to a syrupy consistency–add in chocolate, remove from heat and whisk until smooth. Mix in butter and salt (and cocoa powder, if using); whisk. Allow the mixture to keep cooling; it will continue to thicken.
  7. Remove the pastry by gently lifting it out of the pan using a corner of the parchment paper. Invert onto rack; place the rack on a cookie sheet. (I put a large piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pastry and then carefully flip.) Pour the icing over the pastry. Eat any chocolate drips leftover on the cookie sheet.
  8. Refrigerate the pasty until the icing is completely set; cut the pasty into slices. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.European pastries

 

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Cooking with a Raclette Grill

Snowed in? Too cold to venture outside for more than a few minutes? Me, too. That’s why you might want to try this cooking technique and recipe from Jessie Voigts–the force behind Wandering Educators.

 

I’ve found the perfect way to cook in winter. It warms up our kitchen, is participatory, and encourages long conversations at the dinner table, while simultaneously feeding us. What is it?

 

A raclette grill!

Let me share the joys of this unique kitchen item with you.

Raclette grill 1

Raclette is a cheese from Switzerland (a gooey, delicious, melty cheese that is well worth purchasing if you can find it). Traditionally, you’d purchase it as a large round, and melt the edges by the fire. But it is also a way of cooking food – presumably, from the herdsmen up in the Alps that put their food near the fire, melting cheese and cooking meat and veggies to go along with that melty, cheesy goodness.

 

And, of course, now you can buy an electric raclette grill. It comes with a non-stick griddle on top (ours is double-sided, more on that later), and 8 little pans for melting things underneath. It has a turn dial to control the heat.

Here’s how to use your raclette grill:

Rachlette grill 2

Chop up sausages, cooked potatoes, sliced onions, sliced peppers, and other vegetables you’d like to eat with your dinner. You can arrange them all on a central plate, or have people choose their own and keep them near to hand to facilitate the ease of cooking for each person.

Prepare some cheese. If you don’t have raclette, don’t worry. Use a melty cheese (jack, gouda, havarti) or even a sharp cheddar (although this does not melt as well). Shred the cheese or cut it into pieces.

Garlic butter is a good idea. Chop up some garlic and put a bit in the melting pan, and add a knob of butter. This is especially delicious over potatoes.

We’ve also made mini nachos, with just a few chips and some shredded Mexican cheese.

Rachlette grill 3

Heat up your grill, and then top with the things you’d like cooked. When they are almost done, you can do one of two things:

  1. Melt your cheese in pans underneath and pour it over the cooked items on your plate.
  2. Put some of the grilled items in the melting pans, and top with cheese. Let it melt for a bit.

To be honest, I prefer method #2. It results in gooier cheese to pour over your food items. That little tray of melted cheese is a beautiful sight.

 

The other side of our raclette grill has two large indentations to make pancakes – or crepes. We had chopped chicken that I mixed into a savory béchamel sauce, and put into the crepes. Of course, there were a few crepes left over, so the nutella jar also found its way to the table.

 

This way of cooking is similar to fondue, in that you sit around the table, watch your food cook, interact with it, eat slowly (those melting cheese pans are small), and laugh a lot. The kitchen warms up, time slows down, and winter seems to be held at bay by more than just the walls of your home. You can almost imagine being in the Alps, cooking your meals by the fire, and eating slowly, enjoying every bite.

 

Raclette grill 4

What might you make on a raclette grill?

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Gingerbread Linzer Cookies with Lemon Frosting

Gingerbread Linzer Cookies

Making Linzer cookies is a Christmas tradition around our house. But this year I wanted to do something different. My kids were the inspiration – my youngest begged me to make gingerbread cookies. I figured we could do a little bit of both. For every pan of gingerbread men we made another pan of Linzer cookies with the same dough. One dough, two very different cookies.

Here’s how to put the Linzer cookies together. I purchases my Linzer cookie cutter from King Arthur Flour but they’re available at kitchenware stores, too.

Linzer and gingerbread cookies

Recipe

*Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Cookies: 4 dozen sandwich cookies

 

Cookie dough ingredients

¾ cup butter

¾ cup packed brown sugar

¾ cup molasses

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 ½ tsp. ginger

¼ tsp. anise

1/4 tsp. almond extract

½ tsp. lemon zest

1 egg

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

3 12/ cups all-purpose flour

 

Lemon frosting ingredients

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 Tbsp. heavy cream

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. lemon zest

2-3 cups powdered sugar

Sprinkle of salt

 

Directions

Cookies

  1. In the microwave, melt the butter together with the brown sugar then stir in the molasses, salt, and seasonings, including the lemon zest.
  2. Let the mixture cool and then beat in an egg.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining dry ingredients together. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
  4. Stir the dough into a ball and wrap with aluminum foil. Refrigerate 1 hour or overnight.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll out each piece to 1/8” thick and use a Linzer cookie cutter to make the cookie shapes. No Linzer cookie cutter? No problem. Use a biscuit cutter or even a cup to make the circular shapes.
  7. Bake each sheet of dough cookie shapes for 8-10 minutes or until just set (they’ll become crisper as they cool).

 

Icing

  1. In a large bowl, whip the butter until creamy. Add in the heavy cream and then the powdered sugar. Next, mix in the lemon juice and the zest along with the salt.
  2. Continue blending the frosting until it’s the right consistency – add more powdered sugar to make the frosting firmer or cream to make it smoother. Want it tangier? Add more zest or lemon juice.

 

Assembly

Easy! Use a kitchen knife to spread about 1 ½ tsp. frosting on one cookie and then sandwich it together with another cookie on top. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top if you’d like to make the cookie look even prettier.

 

Gingerbread Linzer Cookies Close up

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