Memorial Day weekend marked the opening of the West River Farmers' Market, where I am a vendor; I make and can a variety of preserves and condiments. (You can read about the trials and tribulations – and successes – of my inaugural season here on Mouthfuls.) I also like to include some baked goods to round things out. In gearing up for opening day, I baked two dozen Prune and Armagnac Tea Cakes and several hundred Coconut Cookies.
Both freeze very well, so those quantities could be expected to carry me for a few weeks.
It was also the weekend on which two very dear friends got married, in a lovely and most thoughtfully personal ceremony. In extending the lack of convention to their reception, they chose to have a table of sweets made by friends and family, rather than commission a single wedding cake. There were cheesecakes made by the bride's father, beautiful cakes and fruit pies from friends and cousins, exotic sweet rice and gulab jamuns, carefully made chocolate truffles and hand-decorated cookies. My festive contribution was baklava.
Following are recipes for the cakes and the cookies. I bake by weight rather than volume; for those who do the same, I've included weight in grams for most ingredients.
If you're ambitious enough to want to try and make your own baklava, this is the recipe I used, but I made the following changes: I used equal amounts of walnuts, almonds, and unsalted pistachios and blended in freshly ground cardamom instead of clove. For the syrup, I added several cardamom pods. I love the fragrance of cardamom, and it was a perfect addition to the baklava.
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Prune and Armagnac Tea Cakes
(adapted from Alice Medrich’s Cocolat)
Use two 6-cup loaf pans, or 5 mini loaf pans
1/3 c. Armagnac
1 1/2 c. dried pitted prunes (200g)
3 c. sifted AP flour (340g)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. unsalted butter (2 sticks or 225g)
2 c. superfine sugar (400g)
1 whole vanilla bean
4 large eggs (at room temperature)
3/4 c. buttermilk (at room temperature)
1/2 c. Armagnac for brushing cakes (optional)
NOTE: I found a great source for whole vanilla beans at saffron.com. The prices are very good ($28.95/lb; that's 90 – 130 beans, depending on variety) and the quality is excellent: plump, soft, potent beans.
Cut prunes into quarters and combine with Armagnac in a small bowl; set aside. Sift together dry ingredients; set aside.
Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Slice vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds with a sharp knife; add to butter/sugar mixture. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until incorporated.
Combine buttermilk with prune/Armagnac mixture.
Add dry ingredients to butter/sugar mixture, in 3 parts, alternating with buttermilk/prune mixture. Use low speed on a mixer, or blend very gently by hand. Beat only until each addition is incorporated. Divide batter into prepared pans.
Bake until cakes are well-browned and a tester poked into the centers of the cakes comes out clean (55 – 65 min. for large loaves, 35 – 40 min. for mini loaves).
Remove pans to a cooling rack and let cool for 10 minutes before turning the cakes out of the pans. Let cool completely. If desired, brush the cakes well with Armagnac.
Wrap the cooled cakes in plastic wrap and let sit overnight to let the flavor develop. Cakes will keep, well-wrapped and unrefrigerated, for at least a week. They also freeze beautifully and, to my mind, are even better after being frozen (and thawed, of course).
4 c. AP flour (480g)
2 1/3 c. unsweetened shredded coconut (200g)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar (300g)
1 1/2 c. unsalted butter (3 sticks or @ 340g) softened
1 whole vanilla bean
4 large egg yolks
grated peel of one lemon
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Measure flour, coconut, and salt into a medium bowl and blend well with a large whisk.
Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Slice vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds with a sharp knife. Add to butter/sugar mixture along with egg yolks and grated lemon peel and beat until well blended.
You can chill the dough before rolling and cutting, or not (I don’t). Roll the dough to slightly thinner than 1/4" and cut with a small round (2") cutter. Using a thin spatula, transfer cookies to baking sheets.
Bake for 10-12 minutes total, rotating sheets front-to-back and top-to-bottom halfway through. Cookies should be lightly browned at the edges.
Transfer to cooling racks and let cool completely before storing.
If you like your sweets salty (and I do), use up to a full teaspoon of salt. These cookies are SO addictive, it's hard not to inhale them all by themselves, but if you can wait – and if you can find it or be arsed to make some yourself – they're really really good with burnt caramel ice cream.