Limoncello & Semolina Cookies

Desserts and Sweets, Recipes

Ever since shortly after we graduated high school, my best friend and I have not lived on the same coast. Luckily we have this thing called the Internet, and in college, much of my extra spending money was saved up for the occasional jaunt to New York to visit and catch up. I know, what does this have to do with the cookies? I’m getting to it.

You can take the boy out of southern California but you can never really take southern California out of the boy. As he moved from cold-weather-state to cold-weather-state, I knew he missed home and the sunshine. One day, knowing of my love for limoncello and baking, he sent me this recipe that had been adapted from an Italian cookbook. In retrospect, I think he was also not-so-subtly hinting at me to send him a care package.

If you don’t have semolina on hand, I discovered that you can substitute Cream of Wheat, 1:1. I also found that being a bit more generous with the limoncello helps the cookies really sing with that lemony goodness. Not to mention that adding some extra lemon zest helps to yield cookies that are just like brilliant rays of sunshine bursting out of a USPS Medium Sized Flat Rate Box.

Fresh from the oven - golden drops of sunshine

Fresh from the oven – golden drops of sunshine

So here’s the recipe, with my tweaks, for the cookies that are so good that they have been requested for cross-country delivery. (And many thanks to Brian of Clinton Hill Foodie for sharing his recipe for a sweet treat that’s surely cheered up a homesick friend on many occasions.)

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

2 cups of all-purpose flour
3/4 cup of semolina (or Cream of Wheat, original flavor)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons olive oil (if you have it on hand, try the Meyer Lemon oil from Global Gardens!)
1 cup white (granulated) sugar, plus extra for rolling the balls of dough
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 lemon, zested and juiced (plus the zest of 1 more lemon, optional)
3 tablespoons limoncello
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Yields 60 small cookies if making 1-inch diameter spheres of dough

Dry Stuff

Dry Stuff

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, semolina, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Before

Before

After

After

Creamed butter

Creamed butter

In a large bowl, cream the softened butter with the sugar and olive oil. Forget to leave the butter out on the counter to soften? I do that all the time! I don’t have great foresight when it comes to baking. But after the croissant making class we took at Elle A Cooking, we learned a spiffy trick to get straight-out-of-the-fridge butter soft and ready to go. If you’re using the whole stick of butter (we are in this recipe), leave it in its wrapping and whack it a few times with a rolling pin. Alternatively, you can place the butter between 2 sheets of parchment or wax paper and do the same thing. Pounding it out somehow softens it enough for creaming. Probably something to do with kinetic energy, like warming up before you work out. Shrug.

Spiffy Lemon Covers

You can use these Spiffy Lemon Covers to catch the seeds!

Now add your lemon juice, limoncello, vanilla, and zest. It will look liquidy and the butter may look globby. It’s OK. Just mix together as best you can.

See? Globby.

See? Globby.

Slowly add the dry ingredients, stirring to combine until you a ball of dough starts to form. Mix well to incorporate all of the lemony goodness into the dough.

Ready for the chill!

Ready for the chill!

Set up a sheet of plastic wrap and pour out the dough to form a disc. Cover with more plastic wrap and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (2-3 hours would be even better, especially if your kitchen and/or house is on the warm side).

Mmm sugar....

Mmm sugar….

One hour later… preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Set up a plate or shallow dish with granulated sugar. Break off pieces of the chilled dough and roll between your palms into cute approximately 1-inch diameter spheres. Roll each sphere in the sugar to coat and then place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The sugar will help give the cookies a wonderful crisp and crackle on the outside. The cookies do spread a little so leave about 1.5-2 inches between them. This batch of dough yielded 4 trays of 15 cookies.

Cutest tray of cookies ever!

Cutest tray of cookies ever!

Once you fill up 2 trays, place them in the oven and set a timer for 7 minutes. At this halfway point, swap the trays so that the tray on the top rack is now on the bottom one and vice versa. Also rotate the trays so that the side that was closest to the back of the oven is now at the front. Set the timer for an additional 7 minutes for a total of 14 minutes bake time.

Couldn't resist snapping a quick picture!

Couldn’t resist snapping a quick picture!

I know, I know – who wants to expend the extra effort? I used to skip this step too and bake the cookies for the full 14 minutes in one shot, but for this last batch, I went the extra mile and every cookie was a beautiful, perfect golden brown on the bottom. Totally worth it, so just do it.

Eventually transferred these to a cooling rack instead..

Eventually transferred these to a cooling rack instead..

Take the cookies out of the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. I initially left them on the parchment and simply moved them to cool on our countertop, but the heat creates a steamy condensation on the bottoms and starts making them soggy. They taste great fresh out of the oven and keep well in an airtight container left at room temperature for a few days… if they survive that long!

PS: We were inspired to whip up a batch after finding some beautiful golden Eureka lemons from Gonzaga Farms (the same people who sell stone fruit from Tenerelli Orchards) at last week’s farmer’s market.

PPS: This is also the first post in a series of alcohol-inspired or infused desserts I’m working on. Stay tuned!

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Fresh Pasta: A Real Eye-talian Treat

Food Life, Main Dishes, Recipes

When it comes to pasta, a lot of people, myself included, would rather go for the quick and easy 5-minute Barilla capellini from the supermarket. On the off-chance you have an hour or two to make dinner, you should really consider making fresh pasta. It takes a little bit of time and effort but isn’t very difficult at all and tastes so much better than store-bought pasta. Once you get the basics of making fresh pasta, you can start experimenting like herb pasta, pumpkin pasta, spinach pasta, squid ink pasta, you name it! Let’s take a step back and start with the basics first.

Ingredients:

5 oz. All-purpose flour (approx. 1.13 dry cups) *
5 oz Semolina flour (approx. 0.85 dry cups) *
2 Extra Large Eggs
Pinch of salt
Dry herbs (optional)
Drizzle of olive oil

* the conversion comes out a bit funny, so for simplicity you could also use 1-1/4 cup AP flour and 3/4 cup of semolina. Rule of thumb is one egg per one cup of dry flour, so we’re looking for 2 cups total between the AP flour and semolina.

** UPDATE: if you do have a food scale, you may need a third egg to have enough moisture to turn the 10 ounces of dry ingredients into a silky dough

There’s a few ways you could do this but we’ll explain the “well” method here. If you have a stand mixer you could throw all the ingredients in and voila! Using a food processor would require some more attention to make sure the dough doesn’t get too dry and cause it to smoke up like ours did. We learned the well method from a cooking demo with the New School of Cooking at Eat Real Fest, and it works best for us.

First mix the semolina and all-purpose flour together in a large bowl. For this next step you could choose to use a cutting board but we like using the bowl because we tend to make a mess of things. Form a well with the flour mixture using the bottom of the dry measuring cup you used for the flour.

The Well

Crack both eggs and put them into the well along with a pinch of salt, drizzle of olive oil, and, if you’d like, some basil or other dry herbs. We used extra large eggs but if you use smaller eggs or larger eggs remember to adjust accordingly because 2 extra large eggs was just the right amount of moisture for the amount of dough we wanted to make.

Add Eggs

With a fork, break the yolks and begin mixing the ingredients in the well while slowly incorporating the flour mixture in a circular motion. Try to maintain the integrity and shape of the well to avoid mixing in too much flour all at once. It’s easier to use mix in less flour and add more if it turns out sticky than to need to add water or olive oil later if it became too dry. Continue mixing the ingredients together until you get a nice lump of dough.

Whisk together in a circular motion

When the dough is no longer sticky, jump in with both hands and begin kneading the dough with your palms on a cutting board sprinkled with flour. Knead the dough out, rotate it a quarter-turn, fold it over, and knead again, adding flour as needed if still sticky. Knead for about 5-10 minutes to get the gluten proteins working.

Put the lump of dough into an unsealed Ziplock bag and let sit on the counter for 40 minutes. If you’re in a rush, you can go as short as 20 minutes, but ideally you want to let it rest for 40 minutes to an hour.

After 40 minutes have passed, take the lump of dough, roll it out with a rolling pin, and cut it into 4 equal pieces. (Tip: you’ll want the pieces to be more narrow than wide so that it doesn’t stick to the edges of the pasta maker.) You’re all set! You could choose to make cut pasta, shaped pasta, filled pasta.. even leave the strips whole and make lasagna. We haven’t quite tried shaped pastas yet so read on for instructions on “string” or cut pastas.

To roll the pasta, we use a Marcato pasta maker, see link here for info about it. Set your pasta maker to the 0 setting and run the dough through it. Fold the dough over on itself in thirds (like you’re folding a brochure) and run it through the machine again. Repeat this 2-3 times until it has produced a consistent thickness. Change the dial to 1 and run the dough through once. Continue changing the dial to higher numbers and run the dough through once each time until it reaches the desired thickness. For spaghetti on the Marcato machine, we roll up to the thickness setting 6 and angel hair about 7 or 8. The higher you go on the setting, the thinner the pasta, and higher chance of it falling apart during cutting.

Beautiful rolled pasta dough

After rolling each piece of dough, cut the lengthy piece in half and place on top of a baking pan lined with saran wrap and let sit.  You can stack layers of saran wrap on top and repeat this step until all the dough has been rolled. The saran wrap keeps the rolled pasta from drying out while you finish up the rest of the dough. Be sure to keep the baking pan in a cool place! We once left it our stove (which is constantly warm because of the pilot light) and the bottom layer turned out to be unusable mush.

Let sit between layers of saran wrap to prevent drying out

The cutting of the pasta really just depends on your preference. The Marcato pasta maker comes with default cutting heads for fettucine and tagliolini. Additional heads could be bought separately for about $30-$40. For all intents and purposes, these two attachments with varying thicknesses should suffice. Peel off one of the rolled pieces of dough from the saran wrap. If it is too sticky, liberally sprinkle with all purpose flour. Excess flour will just flake off into the water later, but the cutting heads will not make clean cuts if the dough is too sticky. Roll the pasta through and make sure to catch the strands as they come out from the opposite side.

Hold the strands as they are cut

Lay the pasta on a drying rack to dry before cooking or storage. Space out the strands, dusting on extra flour if you have to, to ensure that the pasta does not end up in one big mass.

Finished product!

The pasta is best if consumed in the same day, so if you are using the pasta right away, you’ll want to let it sit on the drying rack for at least 10 minutes or so before dropping them in salted (or oiled) boiling water. Fresh pasta takes considerably less time to cook than the dried stuff in the box, so taste taste taste! When it is al dente (approx 2-3 minutes for capellini, 5-6 minutes or so for fettuccine), drain the pasta, toss in sauce, and serve immediately. You definitely need to dress the pasta shortly after draining in order to avoid clumping.

If you have leftovers or would like to keep the pasta for later, it keeps for about 3 days in the refrigerator in an airtight ziploc bag. Let the pasta dry on the racks for an hour or so and gently pack them in the bag so that the strands do not break. Freezing is not recommended, and drying on the rack will not dry the pasta sufficiently for long-term storage like the grocery store brands.

We hope this little guide will help you get started in your pasta making adventures. It may take some time and a few attempts to get the right texture and consistency in fresh pasta but it will definitely be worth the hassle. If you have time during the week, definitely consider making fresh pasta. We, however, still often make Barilla during the week for convenience’s sake (for shame, yes). Now that the basics is covered, it’s time to experiment with different sauces but will post them here as we do!