Friday, April 29, 2011

Make Someone's Day with Molten Lava Chocolate-Raspberry Mini-Cakes

If there’s a special someone on your list or a notable event in the offing, you might want to consider whipping up these extravagant chocolate-raspberry mini-cakes. The combination of soft, moist, very sumptuous chocolate cake tucked around the rich, dark chocolate lava flowing from its center is truly heavenly. Plus, these desserts are dramatic and dressy enough to make it seem like you’ve gone to a lot of trouble, yet are still very do-able to prepare.  (Another chocolate possibility--the chocolate pots de creme here.)

Molten Lava Chocolate-Raspberry Mini-Cakes
Use any ramekins or small, shallow baking dishes that hold about 3/4-cup each for these mini-cakes. Just be sure that the dishes are shallow, as the cakes are tricky to remove from the traditional, 4-inch deep custard cups. 

Tip: Though the look is less dramatic, it’s possible to bake and serve these chocolate cakes in classic crème brûlée dishes for an easier, fuss-free presentation. In this case, just drizzle some melted raspberry jam back and forth over each cake, then add a little dollop of whipped cream to the center.
If this chocolate decadence just doesn't seem fitting for the occasion, how about a cheesecake; here's one everybody loves.

12 ounces bittersweet (60 to 70 percent cacao) or semisweet chocolate, broken up or coarsely chopped
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam, plus 2 tablespoons, melted, for garnish
5 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon raspberry extract or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
Lightly sweetened whipped cream or powdered sugar for garnish, optional

Generously butter six or seven 3/4-cup soufflé dishes, ramekins, or shallow custard cups. In a microwave-safe medium bowl, combine the chocolate and butter. Microwave on high power for 1 minute, then stop and stir. Continue microwaving on medium power, stopping and stirring at 30-second intervals, until the chocolate and butter are barely melted, stirring occasionally; let the residual heat finish the job. (Alternatively, in a heavy medium saucepan, warm the chocolate and butter over lowest heat, stirring frequently, until partially melted; be very careful not to burn. Immediately remove from the heat.) Stir in 3 tablespoons jam until it melts and the chocolate mixture cools to warm.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until blended. Add the granulated sugar, extract, and salt, whisking until evenly incorporated. Whisk in the chocolate mixture. Sift the flour, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder over the batter and whisk until smoothly incorporated. If the batter seems very stiff and dry, stir in up to 2 tablespoons warm water. Divide the batter among the prepared dishes; they should be fairly full. The unbaked cakes will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Place the dishes on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes (a little longer if the batter has been refrigerated), or until the tops are browner at the edges and rise above the dish rims. The center tops should be soft to the touch and look underdone, and the consistency pudding-like when a toothpick is inserted in the center. Run a paring knife around the dishes and under the bottoms of the cakes until completely loosened. Let cool on a wire rack for 6 to 7 minutes to cool slightly and firm up.To plate, center a dessert plate directly over a cake top. Using oven mitts and holding the two tightly against each other, invert the cake onto the plate. Repeat with the remaining cakes. Garnish the plates with drizzled melted raspberry jam, as shown, if desired. (I pipe it using a pastry bag or through a sturdy plastic baggie with a tiny hole snipped in one corner.) Serve immediately, garnished with lightly sweetened whipped cream (or with sifted powdered sugar over top) if desired.

Alternative do-ahead unmolding option: The warm chocolate cakes can be unmolded and placed all together on an ovenproof platter, covered, and set aside for a few hours. Reheat in a 325 degree F oven just until warmed through but not hot before serving. Transfer to individual dessert plates using a wide spatula.

These little chocolate cakes will keep, airtight and refrigerated, for up to a week. Reheat, as directed above, before serving.
Makes 6 or 7 mini-cakes.
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Rhubarb Report, Plus Delightful Spring Rhubarb-Strawberry Cobbler

You’re probably going to think it’s silly, but I have to give you my rhubarb report! My two whole plants are up, and I’m projecting that some stalks will be ready in another month.
Yes, they may still be on the young, thinnish side, (as opposed to those at left) but actually, they’re better that way. As is true of many veggies—yes, rhubarb is technically a vegetable—the stalks tend to become tough and woody as they mature. Look closely at the reddish stems peeking out from under the large leaves in the pic below; they're part of my crop to come!
Though my rhubarb stalks and those at top left are red, they can actually vary from crimson to ruddy, to pinkish green to light green depending on the variety. The red kinds are more popular simply because they look prettier; they aren’t really any sweeter tasting.
Unless you grow your own rhubarb, you may not have ever seen the stalks and leaves together. That’s because the leaves are actually poisonous, so growers play it safe and trim them off before they ship to stores. (In case this sounds alarming, keep in mind that you’d probably have to eat a pound or more of leaves to become really sick.)
The leaves on my plants are currently about a foot long, but by the time I harvest, they may be double that. The pic at left shows several leaves from my last year’s crop—they were over two feet and, in fact, not exceptionally large! I fill the big empty space left after the harvest by tucking in some annual flowers.
Since I know the local rhubarb isn’t ready yet, I looked into the source of what's now in the stores. It turns out that most of it is raised in hothouses in the Northwest. Hothouse rhubarb is usually a brighter hue, more tender, and has a less robust taste than cultivated rhubarb. But never fear, it works just fine in the following recipe, and, in fact, I’m always happy to get it to tide me over till the regional supply kicks in!
I’m fond of “plain” rhubarb and always ready at least a few dishes of stewed rhubarb each season. My hubby, however, only likes it combined with strawberries, which I admit is a killer combination. There is a wonderful synergy, with the strawberries lending a lovely berry goodness and the rhubarb providing a terrific zing.
Rhubarb-Strawberry Cobbler

When it comes to pairing rhubarb and strawberries, there are lots of options. This homespun strawberry-rhubarb cobbler is one of my hubby's favorites, and I love it, too. (For an amazing and amazingly easy strawberry-rhubarb freezer jam that's been a huge hit with visitors to kitchenlane click here.)

The cobbler is mellowed with a biscuit crust and bursts with bright flavor. The recipe is easy to make and guaranteed to be a hit. (If you're in the mood for a home-style fruit dessert, but have no rhubarb on hand, try my blueberry-apple crumble instead.)

This recipe is from my Dream Desserts cookbook and the photo was taken by the very talented Marty Jacobs. (My scanned copy really doesn't do his original justice--sorry Marty!)

Tip: If possible use a casserole or baking dish (I love the antique oven-proof glass casserole in the pic) that can go from stove-top to oven. But if you don't have one, ready the filling in a large, non-reactive saucepan. Then transfer it to an oven-proof casserole or an extra-large and deep pie plate for the baking.

Generous 3/4 cup sugar, plus more to taste
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons cranberry juice cocktail, or orange juice
3 cups 3/4-inch pieces fresh rhubarb
1 3/4 cups halved fresh strawberries
1 1/4 cups all-purpose white flour
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into bits
1 1/2 tablespoons corn oil or canola oil
5 tablespoons milk, plus more if needed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

For filling: In a non-reactive 3-quart or larger stove-top and oven-proof casserole thoroughly stir together 3/4 cup sugar and cornstarch. Slowly stir in cranberry juice until well blended and smooth. Add rhubarb; cook over medium-high heat, stirring, just until liquid is thickened slightly and clear. Remove from heat; stir in strawberries. Taste and add more sugar, if desired.

For dough: In a medium-sized bowl, thoroughly stir together flour, 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter and oil. Using a pastry blender, forks, or fingertips, cut in fat until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk to mixture, tossing with a fork just until evenly incorporated; if it seems dry, add a teaspoon or two extra milk. If mixture seems wet, let it stand 5 minutes to reduce stickiness.

Gently press dough together into a ball. Then press out into a flat 5-inch disc on a sheet of wax paper. Dust dough top with flour. Top with another sheet of paper. Press or roll out into a round slightly small than the diameter of the casserole used. Peel off one sheet of paper. Center dough, dough-side down, over fruit mixture. Peel off and discard second sheet. Make several decorative slashes radiating from center of dough top. Sprinkle reserved 1 tablespoon sugar over top.

Bake in middle third of oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in center top comes out clean. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

The cobbler will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days. Serve at room temperature or reheated to warm in a low oven.
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Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Garden Beauty--Plants to Enjoy with Both the Tastebuds and Eyes

 During winter I always seem to forget about some of my garden treasures, especially the small varieties like my violets and mini-hostas. But then spring arrives and I discover them again. It's a fine reward for having a lot of perennials, that just pop up every year and add charm here and there. I thought you might enjoy seeing them, too.
All the violets pictured are wild varieties that just show up in the woods and gardens here in Maryland. Some people are surprised about the purple and white, yellow ones, and all-white ones shown here, but in fact, they all grow wild in my yard. Actually, experts say there are several hundred varieties of violets. (For my story on decorating cupcakes and other baked good with fresh and candied violets, go here.)

During winter I always seem to forget about some of my garden treasures, especially the small varieties like my violets and mini-hostas. But then spring arrives and I discover them again. It's a fine reward for having a lot of perennials, that just pop up every year and add charm here and there. I thought you might enjoy seeing them, too.

Of course, I never forget where I put my rhubarb! It's right next to my red primroses, which are at their peak of color right now. See the red stalks peeking out under the big green leaves! I deliberately plant my rhubarb and herbs among my ornamental varieties, as I have a shady suburban property ill-suited for a full-fledged vegetable garden. (Even if I had more sun, I think the neighbors would be unhappy to see rows of tomato plants or bean poles in my yard!)

I've been following the progress of all the perennials for over a month now, and guesstimate that I'll be cutting some rhubarb stalks for the table in another month. In the meantime, I'll just enjoy their colorful stalks and large ruffled leaves. Eventually, around the time of harvest, those leaves will be 2 or even 3 feet long! (Once, they're gone, some ferns and hostas that are just poking through the ground will fill their space.) For my very popular rhubarb-strawberry freezer jam go here.

So far the early spring flowers have been so bountiful, I had enough to cut some for pretty bouquets. What a wonderful season of the year!

For more on the ferns in my shade garden in spring, go here. 
   Or perhaps you might like my post on pastry decorating   with violet blooms here.

Or perhaps a recipe for making violet decorating sugar here.


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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Alluring Au Naturel Dye-Free Pastel Buttercream Frostings—Perfect for Decorating Springtime Treats

I’ve been trying to limit the use of commercial food dyes in my dessert decorations lately, and decided to see if I could create some eye-catching spring sweet treats that would be completely food color-free. These pretty decorated cupcakes, which I’ll be serving to my grandchildren, are the result. So, I’m declaring the project a resounding success!

The buttercream frostings featured are completely free of food dyes and contain only sugar, butter, and natural fruit flavors and colors. The fruits are added in the form of very convenient fruit juice concentrates: Use thawed frozen orange juice concentrate for the cream-colored frosting and either raspberry-grape or cranberry juice concentrate for a pink hue. The orange juice concentrate together with orange zest will produce a pleasing orange flavor; the raspberry blend lends a light berry flavor; and the cranberry-orange zest a pleasant, zippy fruity-citrusy taste.
 Forbrighter decorating colors, see my cookie icings  here.

The crowning touch to garnish my cupcakes is either fresh or candied violets, Johnny jump-ups, or very small pansies. All these are edible, naturally colorful, and abundant in spring. (Do not use African violet blooms, or other flowers that just happen to strike your fancy as many are either unpleasant tasting or poisonous.) For instructions on candying the violets, plus more decorated cupcake pics, go here.

Easy Au Naturelle Orange, Cranberry-Orange or Raspberry Buttercream Frosting
The following versatile, easy buttercream can serve as decorative piped or swirled cake, cupcake or cookie frosting. It’s a great boon to anyone preferring to avoid or limit food dyes when decorating. If you wish to serve two different flavors and colors (as shown in the picture) make two batches of frosting, each in a different flavor.

Tip: If you are choosing a raspberry fruit juice concentrate and want to be sure to avoid commercial colorants, check the label. Some brands contain red food dyes, others, such as the Welsh’s raspberry-grape blend I used here, don’t.

2 2/3 cups powdered sugar, plus more if needed
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
Generous 2 tablespoons raspberry-grape, cranberry, or orange frozen (thawed) juice concentrate
1/8 teaspoon very finely grated orange zest, optional

Combine the powdered sugar, butter, fruit juice concentrate, and zest (if using) in a large mixer bowl. Beat on low, then medium speed until well blended. Scrape down the bowl. If necessary, gradually beat in cool tap water, a teaspoon at a time until the mixture is creamy-smooth and has the desired spreading or piping consistency; or add in more powdered sugar if it is too wet. Raise the speed and beat until very light and fluffy, about 1 minute longer. Scrape down the sides again. 
Spread the frosting on with a knife, then swirl it attractively with the tip. Alternatively, if applying to mini-cupcakes or cookies, you can spoon the frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch diameter open star tip. Pipe rosettes over the tops by holding the tip vertically and squeezing the bag and rotating the tip at the same time. Immediately press fresh or candied violets onto the centers of cupcakes or cookies, or arrange in whatever attractive pattern is desired for cakes. Serve immediately or place in an airtight container. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to a week. Let come to room temperature before serving.
Leftover frosting can be stored airtight for up to a week in the refrigerator or a month in the freezer. Allow it to return to room temperature before using. For best texture, beat it lightly again before using.  Makes about 2 cups frosting.

For an intensely flavored and colored raspberry buttercream frosting go here. 
For my all-natural fruit and berry tinted cookie icings shown on the daisy cookies, go here. 


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Monday, April 11, 2011

Decorating Pastries with Fresh and Candied Violets--A Beautiful, Natural Look for Spring

It was fated, I suppose. The very day I mentioned on Facebook that I was thinking about ways to minimize the use of commercial dyes and food colorings in my pastry decorating, I spied a bright carpet of wild purple violets along the wooded trails behind my house.

About a week later, I also found some yellow and pale lavender violets in the woods--yes, they are native here in central Maryland, as well! 
The violets along the woodland paths reminded me that years before I’d successfully used both fresh and candied violets to dress up a cake for a “Victorian-themed” tea. So, I decided to once again harvest some and take advantage their natural beauty to decorate the frosted cupcakes here while they were here at hand. Gardeners call these and similar woodland flowers “ephemerals,” because they make a brief, but dazzling appearance each spring, and then just as quickly disappear.

Unlike many wild and cultivated flowers, violets and their cousins, Johnny-jump-ups and pansies, are edible, so if carefully washed, they can adorn food without any health concerns. They are also tender and have a very mild, indistinct flavor, and, when candied, taste like little more than sugar. Don’t ever use unfamiliar flowers to enhance your dishes, as some are highly poisonous or taste very bitter. (Also, note that African violets are not the same as woodland violets and cannot be used.)

If placed in water, fresh purple violet blooms will hold their vibrant color and delicate shape for several days. But once perched on a cake or cupcakes or cookies, they must be served promptly as they will droop and fade in less than an hour. So, if using them fresh, plan accordingly. (Note that yellow violets are very fragile and droop right away, so aren't really suitable for decorating unless you want to strew them on a fresh salad soon after you pick them.)

Once they are washed and patted dry, it's possible to preserve, or "candy," violets or their kin so they can be held and used like regular pastry decorations (as shown at left and at the top). This involves simply coating the petals on both sides with egg white, then sprinkling them evenly with superfine granulated sugar. (This can be made by grinding regular sugar in a processor until very fine.) I dip each flower into the egg white very lightly on both sides, then use a small paint brush to cover any spots missed. Then, I use a spoon to scoop sugar on one side and then another.

Finally, I lay them on a flat surface and using toothpicks or tweezers, spread out the petals attractively so they dry in their original graceful floral form. They will immediately fade to soft lavender, and gradually lose more color over time. After letting them air dry for several days, I store them airtight and out of the light, and try to use them within two or three months. Most recipes seem to call for cutting off the stems before candying, but sometimes I like to use stemmed violets, so I just snip them to the desired length with scissors right while I'm decorating. I think the stems also make the flowers easier to pick up and move around.

Many firms that sell candied violets simply dunk the blossoms in egg white and sugar and just set them aside to dry. As a result, the blooms often aren’t identifiable as delicate flowers and instead merely look like rough purple blobs! (Which is why though I like the idea of them, I’m never happy enough with their appearance to resort to store-bought.)

As you can see from the cupcake pic above left, candied violets prepared at home, on the other hand, lend a romantic, charming and completely natural decorative touch. They were especially popular in the Victorian era, and it’s obvious why. I’m planning to use them to replace the usual food-color tinted nonpareils on some baked treats prepared for a garden party this summer. I’m betting they’ll be a hit.

The most well-known violets are the deep purple-blue ones. The lavender and white violets here above right just came up in my shade garden, so are obviously native here. There are several hundred other varieties with colors ranging from cream and yellow to blue to mauve. For more violet and other spring pics from my garden, go here.) For a beautiful salad garnished with violets, go here.

For the fresh, all-natural dye-free buttercream frostings used on the cupcakes presented above, go here.
For another totally different, more more modern recipe that shows off nature's glorious color check out David Lebovitz's cookies here.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Five Things NEVER to Say to Food Editors (Unless You Want Them to Scream and Run Away!)

Recently I decided to gather some tips from food editors on what writers need to know to work with them successfully. I specifically asked them what freelancers should never say—what thoughtless comments make them want to scream and never want to hear from that writer again.
I was expecting most to complain about the lame excuses given for missing deadlines, but this was not among their top pet peeves. The cookbook editor in the group, Justin Schwartz, did comment on this topic, saying that so many writers missed manuscript deadlines he’d come to expect it! I know that newspaper editors must depend on their writers to deliver on time, but, still, none of them brought up this point.
Here’s what they did feel writers should NEVER say. The list (in random order) is quite revealing.

> “I’m not that familiar with your publication.”
Susie Middleton, the former editor and now editor-at-large for Fine Cooking magazine, thinks that the number one writer faux paux is saying even indirectly, "I've never read your magazine!" Joe Yonan, the Washington Post food and travel editor, agrees: “Anything that exposes ignorance about my publication or section [turns me off]. I recently got a writer query for Travel that said, ‘Do you do a ‘36-Hours-in’ feature? You know, like the one in the NYTimes?!” In short, if you show this little knowledge of or interest in the editor’s “baby” or bailiwick, you’re chances of writing for him or her are likely doomed.
What editors do want is strong evidence of just the opposite--that the writer knows the publication and what stories might be appropriate or inappropriate for it. Susie specifically warns against sending a proposal that would be, "perfect for Saveur when it's actually going to Bon Appetit!”
She adds that every story idea needs to be tailored to the magazine's mission--whether it's how-to, entertaining, travel, or whatever. “The same recipe story could have five completely different angles depending on which magazine it’s going to,” she says. For example, a one-dish dinners story pitched to a magazine for young families would necessarily be entirely different from an entrees feature aimed at upscale empty nesters. The needs, interests, and tastes of these reader groups are just so different the recipes and focus would have to be as well. If you don’t target your idea appropriately, you will not only waste editors’ time but peeve them mightily.

> “My recipes don’t need editing.”
As surprising as it may seem, Wiley senior cookbook editor Justin Schwartz says that writers sometimes presume to tell him their work won’t need correcting or editing! His reaction: “I panic …. I've had people say they probably just need help crossing the t's and dot the i's, when I already know their recipes need massive reworking. They just don’t realize how bad their recipes are. They'll say things like, "But my recipes really work--my fans tell me so."
He’s particularly annoyed by claims about thorough recipe testing: “Frankly, I don't understand how people can tell me they had other people test their recipes but then I find ingredients completely missing from the list or directions. Are their friends/testers just not mentioning the problems?”
Admitting that recipes aren’t tested thoroughly or that the written instructions don’t accurately reflect the writer’s testing procedure is also ill-advised. Says Eating Well senior editor Jessie Price: “I NEVER want a writer to tell me, ‘I didn’t actually test the recipe the way I submitted it...’ As in, I wrote instructions to grill something, but I actually just tested it under the broiler... Come on!”

>I want to write for you. Can you give me some topics?
Unless you have attained the status of contributing editor or are a long-time contributor to a publication, don’t ever ask editors to give you ideas to write about. They only parcel out assignments to those who’ve earned their trust. It’s your job to suggest ideas (and hopefully good ones) to them. Martha Holmberg sums up the general protocol this way: “A freelancer should never ask me what I'm looking for (at least until we have a longstanding relationship). I want the writer to tell me about something amazing that I don't yet know, to be a resource for ideas.”

I know you said do X, but I did Y.
It’s the nature of the job for editors (especially of newspapers) to be perpetually harried and working on tight deadlines, so when they ask for specific material to be delivered in a certain fashion they really need the writer to comply. Often, they just don’t have time in the schedule to do a lot of extra editing; they tell you how to submit because they plan to use the material “as is” or as close to that as possible.
This is why Washington Post Deputy Food Editor Bonnie Benwick wants to scream whenever a writer tells her the following: "I know you said keep it short, but I had a lot to say. Just cut it to fit." She's not happy about this response either: “Instead of just answering your specific questions, I rewrote the whole thing.” The bottom line: Deliver exactly what’s asked for as asked for, not what’s easiest for you.

>"I've already sent this to X and Y [competing publications], but let me know if you want to use it."
The Post’s Bonnie Benwick feels that suggesting something that you’ve already submitted to a competing publication is a nearly unforgivable sin. First, it’s insulting that another publication was approached first. Second, editors like to be sure that their content is exclusive and that there’s no chance it will turn up in a competitor’s pages. Image your reaction to seeing your fiercest rival show up in public wearing the same outfit as you and you’ll understand where they’re coming from on this.
Martha Holmberg, just recently named Editorial Director for Watershed Communications and previously food editor at The Oregonian in Portland is also touchy about the competing publications issue, adding: “A freelancer should never tell me that someone else's deadline is more important than mine!” In other words, treat every editor and publication with dignity and respect, even if you feel you’ve got bigger fish to fry. IMHO, this is good advice in life in general, not just a wise approach to working with food editors.

If you’re an editor and I’ve missed one of your big peeves, feel free to sound off with what writers say that makes YOU want to scream. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear if you found this list of “don’t”s helpful. Several other stories that might interest you: What Food Editors are (Still) Looking For, and Food Writing Lessons I've Learned the Hard Way.
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Friday, April 1, 2011

Happy April Fool's Day! Is This Sliced Bread Real or Faux?

Happy April Fool’s Day! To celebrate the occasion, I made a recipe especially for you!

What do bread and butter and sliced salami have to do with April 1, you wonder? Well, I engaged in a bit of visual culinary trickery and hope it worked! These are not really bread and butter or cold cuts in my pictures at all. The bread slices are actually very tasty tromp d’oeil biscotti-like cookies “buttered” with frosting. The sausage slices are cookies, too. Were you fooled?

I first got the idea for these trick-the-eye cookies when I lived in Europe many years ago. One of my German cookbooks featured some very realistic looking “Wurst Platzchen,” or faux sliced sausage cookies similar to those shown in the image below. 

I liked those cookies so much I created my own version and featured them in my International Cookie Cookbook. The cleverly propped photo, taken by Dennis Gottleib, created exactly the fun, fool-the-eye effect we hoped to achieve. (And it wasn’t even hard to do!)

My Faux Brown Bread and Butter Cookies are easy to create and look even more realistic. And they are always a hit with families with kids because they just love being able to add their own “butter,” to their bread. (This new recipe will be in a cookbook I'm finishing up now. A special April Fool's Day greeting goes to Justin Schwartz, my editor at Wiley.)
If you're interested in another unusual, visually interesting cookie, check out David Lebovitz's Rosemary Cookies with Tomato Jam. Or check out my Iced Maple Leaf Cookies, which are painted to mimic autumn maple leaves.

Faux Brown Bread & Butter Cookies
My buttered brown bread slices are, essentially, lightly flavored anise, orange, and chocolate biscotti. The simple orange “butter” icing adds a nice touch to the not-too-sweet cookies, as well as completing the amusing trompe l’oeil effect.

1 cup (about 5 1/2 ounces) whole, lightly toasted and hulled hazelnuts
1 cup chopped (about 6 ounces) 60 to 70 percent cacao chocolate
1/4 cup American-style or Dutched unsweetened cocoa powder
2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour, divided, plus more if needed
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup granulated sugar
Finely grated zest (orange part of skin) of 2 large oranges
1 tablespoon whole anise seeds (or fennel seeds), divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature and beaten with a fork, divided
Baking Preliminaries: Position a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 325 degrees F. Line a very large baking sheet with baking parchment.
Chop the nuts in a food processor until fairly finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl. Process the chocolate and cocoa until the chocolate is finely ground. Stir the chocolate mixture and a generous half of the flour (no need to measure) into the ground nuts.
In the processor, combine the butter, sugar, orange zest, half the anise seeds, the baking powder, and salt until well blended. Add in all but 2 tablespoons eggs to the processor; reserve the two tablespoons egg to garnish the loaves. Process the butter mixture until well blended, stopping and scraping down the bowl sides as needed. Stir the mixture into the nut-flour mixture. Vigorously stir the remaining flour into the dough just until evenly incorporated.
If the dough is too soft or sticky to handle, let it stand 5 to 10 minutes to firm up slightly; if still too soft, knead in a little more flour. If the dough is too crumbly to hold together, knead in a little water. With greased hands, divide the dough in half.
Working on parchment, shape each half into an 8- by 3-inch, domed loaf; they should look more or less like loaves of dark bread. Space the loaves on the parchment-lined baking sheet as far apart as possible. Using a pastry brush (or a paper towel) lightly but evenly brush the loaves with the remaining egg mixture. Immediately sprinkle them with the remaining anise seeds.
Bake (middle rack) for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; it’s normal for the loaves to crack a bit. Set them aside until cooled, then refrigerate until well chilled. On a cutting board, cut each loaf crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices using a large, serrated knife or large, sharp chef’s knife. Lay the slices flat, slightly separated, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (Or use two sheets, if necessary.) Meanwhile reheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Bake the slices (middle rack) until toasted and just slightly darker, but not at all burned, about 15 to 18 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the slices stand in it until cooled completely, at least 45 minutes. These will keep, airtight, for up to 10 days; or freeze, airtight, for up to 2 months.
Faux Butter Frosting: Beat together 1 tablespoon slightly softened butter, 3/4 cup unsifted powdered sugar, and enough orange juice to create a stiff, barely spreadable consistency. If desired add a drop of yellow food color for a brighter butter color. Set out the “butter” and let dinners ready their own “bread,” or if desired ice the cookies ahead. (Store them flat, in a single layer.)
Makes 35 to 40 5-inch brown bread cookie slices.

If you've got your own favorite trompe l'oeil recipe to show off, feel free to tell me about it and provide a hotlink in the comments below.
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