Cinnamon is magical. It should be included in your diet because of all its health benefits, right? Some say cinnamon may cut your risk of heart disease. Other research will tempt you with cinnamon’s high quantity of antioxidants. I say just enjoy the flavor of this spice and the way it adds a layer of sweetness without adding sugar. For me, cinnamon conjures sweet and savory memories, from warm Indian dishes created in our cozy kitchens around the world to sweet baked creations with hot cups of tea on cold days.
The latter memory inspired today’s cookie creation – double cinnamon biscotti. I generally lean toward soft cookies. Biscotti are the crunchy exception. Paired with a hot beverage, the speckles of cinnamon in the cookie and the sweet stripes of cinnamon icing atop the biscotti make for a winning combination.
Double Cinnamon Biscotti
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking powder
- pinch salt
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp whole milk
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt in medium bowl.
- In a large bowl, stir together butter and sugar.
- Stir in eggs, one at a time.
- Mix in vanilla extract.
- Thoroughly mix in flour mixture into egg mixture, half at a time.
- Divide dough in half.
- Shape 1/2 of dough into a long log on baking sheet, about 1 1/2 inches wide and about 9 inches long.
- Repeat with other 1/2 of dough. Give logs space in between because dough will spread during baking.
- Bake biscotti for about 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven and cool for about 15 minutes.
- Cut logs into 1/2 slices with a serrated knife.
- Place sliced cookies back on baking sheet and bake for 15 additional minutes.
- Flip cookies to opposite side and bake for 15 additional minutes.
- Cool on wire racks.
- Make drizzle by mixing confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon and milk.
- Place drizzle in a zip top bag and snip off a tiny piece of bottom corner.
- Squeeze drizzle over cooled biscotti. Let drizzle set before serving.
- Store leftover cookies in airtight container.
Moist and not overly sweet, lemon poppy seed cake is a quick way to brighten up a cold winter day.
This afternoon, the sunshine poured through the living room window, filling our third floor apartment with warmth and the illusion that it wasn’t as cold as it actually is outside. But no mistake, we’re still deep in winter’s grip here in Ulaanbaatar. Today, the temperature soared to a chilly high of 17 degrees F – a bit warmer than it’s been the past several days. Snug inside our apartment, we fantasized about spring while we sat in the sunbeams enjoying warm pieces of moist lemon poppyseed cake with freshly brewed cups of tea.
Lemon Poppy Seed Drizzle Cake
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp poppy seeds
- 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
- 2 tsp almond extract
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- Grease two regular-sized loaf pans.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, poppy seeds, sugar, and lemon zest.
- Stir in oil, eggs, yogurt, almond extract, and lemon juice.
- Pour batter into prepared pans.
- Bake for 50 – 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean.
- Mix together drizzle ingredients.
- Prick cake many times with tines of a fork while warm.
- Brush drizzle on top of cake allowing the drizzle to settle into the cake.
All the pleasures of indulging in a whole pie without the downside of consuming a regular-sized pie – these individual apple pies feature sautéed Fuji apples in a brown-sugar-speckled crust topped with gooey caramel dulce de leche sauce.
We love desserts that could, in theory, be shared but are best enjoyed on your own. Click the links to see these delicious ways we’ve end meals with individual serving desserts: pecan persimmon upside down cake, anniversary crème brûlée, fall harvest cakes and, of course, molten lava chocolate cake. Individual miniature desserts are especially enjoyable because you can savor the textures and flavors of the entire pie.
Individual Apple Pies
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
- 1 cup frozen, unsalted butter
- 14 tbsp ice cold water
- 5 large Fuji apples, peeled, cored and chopped into 1/4 inch cubes (6mm)
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3 tbsp dark brown sugar
- Liberally grease a 12-muffin tin with butter. Set aside.
- Make dough. Whisk together flour, salt and dark brown sugar in a medium bowl.
- Using a cheese grater, grate frozen butter into flour mixture. Stir so that butter is evenly distributed in flour mixture.
- 1 tbsp at a time, mix ice water into flour mixture until dough comes together. Knead a few times on a floured surface. Form dough into a flattened disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- While dough is chilling, make apple filling.
- Melt butter over medium heat. Add apples, cinnamon and dark brown sugar.
- Sauté apple mixture for about 8 minutes. Apples should be firm but soft enough to pierce with a fork. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Place chilled dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it out to about 1/4 inch (6mm) thick.
- Cut circles of dough to fit muffin tin cups.
- Fill pies to the brim with apple mixture.
- Bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree F (175 C) oven. Crusts should be golden brown when finished.
- Let pies cool for 10 minutes before removing them from the tin.
- Drizzle dulce de leche on top of pies just before serving.
Dulce de Leche Topping
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
Pour 1 can sweetened condensed milk into top of double-boiler pan; cover. Place over boiling water.
Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 50 minutes, or until thick and light caramel-colored. Remove from heat. Beat until smooth.
It’s the flamed Cognac (not to mention the half bottle of red wine) that gives this savory dish it’s unique, caramelized flavor. When you light the Cognac, stand back! Can you see the horse head in the flames?
Deep in the heart of winter here in Mongolia, we find ourselves craving traditional cold-weather comfort foods. Beef Bourguignon (also known as Beef Burgundy) is a classic stew from France’s Burgundy region. As is true of many stews and chowders, this dish has its origins as peasant fare, but over time was refined into the not-overly-difficult crowd pleaser familiar today. Why not give it a try some cold winter’s night!
As a stew, ingredients can be substituted fairly freely. (The pearl onions this dish traditionally calls for are difficult to find where we live. Coarsely diced regular onions work fine.) It occurs to us that the addition of rutabaga, pumpkin, parsnips or hard squashes would add appropriate flavors to this dish. Also, remember the basic rule for cooking with wine: use one you’re happy to drink. A full-bodied, dry red is best.
The finished beef bourguignon is traditionally served on toast and is a great excuse (if you need one) to pop the cork on a favorite red wine. The better the toast, the better the entrée. See our method, below.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 oz thick-cut bacon, diced into small pieces
- 1 1/4 pounds beef cut into 1-inch cubes. Tri-tip or chuck work well, as do higher quality cuts.
- smoked sea salt (or regular sea salt)
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 lb carrots, sliced thick
- 1 lb onions, chopped coarse
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped medium coarse
- 1/4 cup Cognac
- 2 cups quality dry, full-bodied red wine such as Syrah, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Merlot or Pinot Noir or a blend of similar wines
- 1 cup beef broth – made from stock, canned or made from bullion
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp thyme
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
- 1 to 2 tbsp all-purpose flour or rice flour
- 1/2 pound mushrooms, stems removed, sliced into large chunks
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (120 C) and adjust rack to a low position.
- Dry the beef cubes with a paper towel and place them in a bowl. Add smoked sea salt and pepper and mix together. Set aside.
- In a large oven-safe pot or sautéing pan with high, straight sides, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook till edges just begin to crisp. Remove bacon to a plate, but reserve the oil and fat in the pan.
- Add beef to hot pan to sear. Do not overlap or crowd. Use tongs or a spatula to turn beef so that each side is browned. Remove seared beef to a plate.
- Add carrots and onions to the pan. Add additional olive oil, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper and sauté till onions are slightly browned and carrots are just tender – about 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
- Add the Cognac and exercising due caution, light it with a match. This will burn off the alcohol and create a rich, caramelized flavor.
- Stir the tomato paste into the beef broth.
- Place the beef and bacon in the pan. Add wine and enough beef broth/tomato paste mixture to almost cover all the ingredients. Add the thyme and bring everything to a simmer.
- Cover the pan with a lid and place in oven for about an hour and 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat half the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the flour and mix together thoroughly.
- Remove pan from oven. Place on stove, stir in the butter and flour mixture and bring to a simmer.
- In a skillet over medium heat, sauté the mushrooms in the remaining butter. Add them to the stew. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes. Taste for seasonings.
- Serve piping hot on toast (see below).
Pan-Fried Toast – Use any hearty, rustic bread sliced fairly thick.
Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium to medium low heat. Mince two cloves of garlic (a fine cheese grater works well for this). Spread one side of bread with olive oil and a thin spread of minced garlic. Place bread garlic-side down in pan and fry, being careful not to let the garlic burn. When the garlic is golden brown, flip the bread and fry the other side. The finished bread should be beautifully browned and crisp on the outside.
An inspiring breakfast: topped with a dollop of sour cream, this apple-filled pancake is like a mile-high crepe, as delicious as it is beautiful .
Morning rituals. Jack and I start every day with a hearty breakfast. This important meal is usually accompanied with a big mug of coffee or tea and a selection of a few poems, which, lucky for me, are read to me by my favorite reader. A day that starts with healthy fuel for the body and sustenance for the mind is likely to be positive and fruitful (wink).
Our breakfast menus traditionally include items like nourishing hot cereals, egg dishes, or something freshly baked. This morning’s menu came straight from the only baking recipe book I have with me here in Mongolia, The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book. If you are only going to have one recipe book, I highly recommend this one. It includes many foundational recipes for breads and desserts which can be easily modified or experimented with. I followed the German Apple Pancake recipe to the T. It came out perfectly. I am already dreaming of this mile-high pancake with farm fresh pears featuring galangal as the centerpiece spice.
German Apple Pancake
- 5 large eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar (plus 1 tsp)
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- pinch salt
- 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 large apples, cored and cut into wedges 1/4 inch thick (6 mm). I used Fuji apples.
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp confectioners’ sugar (optional)
- 1/4 cup crème fraîche. I used 20% fat yogurt.
- Using a blender, or a stick blender, mix eggs, vanilla, and 1/2 cup sugar for about 5 seconds.
- Add flour, baking powder and salt. Blend for an additional 10 seconds. Set mixture aside.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
- Place a 10-inch (25 cm) ovenproof, nonstick frying pan over medium heat and add butter.
- When the butter is heated, add apples and sauté until softened, about 4-5 minutes.
- Sprinkle apples with cinnamon and remaining 1 tsp of sugar. Stir over heat until apples are evenly covered with cinnamon and sugar.
- Move the apples so that they are evenly spread in the pan.
- Pour batter over top of apples.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until bottom is firm, about 8 minutes. You will notice the edges are set.
- Transfer pan to oven and bake until the top of the pancake is firm, about 10 minutes.
- Remove pan from oven. Invert a flat plate over frying pan and flip the pancake onto the plate.
- Cut the pancake into 4 wedges and transfer wedges to individual plates. Dust each portion with confectioners’ sugar. Place a dollop of crème fraîche on each wedge and serve immediately.
- This pancake may inspire someone to read you poetry after they are finished eating their breakfast!
Moist, sweet almond cake with tart sea buckthorn berries baked in – served atop warm vanilla bean custard, this is a sophisticated and flavorful dessert. Serve with sea buckthorn wine or an ice wine.
Berries are our favorite fruits. In Mongolia, we have added a new berry to our culinary collection – sea buckthorn. With 15 times the vitamin C of oranges, it’s no wonder Mongolians have long sought out this berry for its healthful benefits! We found the berries we used in this cake in our local grocery store. We’ll be on the lookout for this hardy plant in the fall in order to harvest our own.
This almond cake lends itself to pairing with a tart fruit such as currants. I made a cranberry version earlier which I adapted for the sea buckthorns. The almonds and the almond extract give the cake a delicious base that would work with a number of flavors. The cake is delicious without fruit as well.
Sea Buckthorn Berry Almond Cake
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup whole almonds pulverized to the consistency of coarse flour
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 3 eggs, well beaten
- 3 tsp almond extract
- 1/2 tbsp dried orange zest or 1 tbsp fresh orange zest
- 2 cups sea buckthorn berries (or another tart berry like cranberry)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C). Grease a 9-inch springform pan.
- Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl.
- Mix in almonds.
- Stir in butter, beaten eggs, almond extract, and orange zest.
- Fold in some of the berries. Reserve some to sprinkle on top of cake.
- Spread the batter into the greased pan.
- Sprinkle remaining berries atop cake. Slightly press them into batter.
- Bake for 40 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean.
- Serve warm with whipped cream, ice cream, or warm vanilla custard.
Who can resist a cookie with a powdery sugar overcoat and dark chocolate peeking out from the crinkles?
When I was young, I would seek out those chocolates the shape of an orange that had to be banged on a table in order to get the slices to come apart – Terry’s Chocolate Orange, I think they were called. The reward? Delicious orange-slice-shaped wedges of chocolate infused with orange flavor. With this holiday favorite in mind, I added essence of orange to my chocolate crinkles. I also put in chopped pecans for another layer of flavor and a little crunch. Voila, a new holiday favorite is created!
Chocolate Orange Pecan Crinkles
- 1 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 4 eggs
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp orange extract
- 1/2 tbsp orange zest
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
- In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa powder and granulated sugar.
- Stir in vegetable oil.
- Mix in eggs, one at a time.
- Stir in vanilla and orange extracts and zest.
- Sift flour, baking powder and salt into the cocoa mixture.
- Fold in chopped pecans.
- Refrigerate for about 45 minutes so the dough is nice and firm.
- Place confectioner’s sugar in a zip top bag.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Using a cookie scoop, or a small ice cream scoop, scoop out a dough ball and drop it in the confectioner’s sugar, making sure it is well covered.
- Place sugar covered dough balls on parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat until you’ve filled a baking sheet with 12 cookies.
- Bake for 15 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for a minute before removing to wire rack.
Makes 30 generous cookies.