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Looking for almond flour? You're not alone

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: December 17, 2014 - 8:01 PM

Try finding almond flour right now in the Twin Cities. It isn’t easy. And it's our fault.

Almond flour's instantaneous popularity is linked to the key role (2 1/4 cups, to be exact) it plays in the winning recipe in our 2014 Taste Holiday Cookie Contest.

We're not surprised that Italian Almond Cookies have captured the attention of Twin Cities bakers. We love them, and it's not as if we haven't observed this phenomenon before; in past years, we've witnessed a skyrocketing demand for such items as pistachios, sliced almonds and chile-spiced chocolate bars.

Back to almond flour. Two days after we published our winning recipe, I conducted an informal in-store survey, dropping in at four randomly selected supermarkets and scoping out the almond flour situation. At all four, I encountered empty shelves. Turns out, my experience was not outside the norm.

“I stopped by my neighborhood grocery store, and they didn’t have any,” said Jennie Baltutis of Minneapolis. “And I thought, ‘Wow, how many people are making that recipe?”

Plenty.

"We've definitely seen a pretty big increase in sales of almond flour," said Luke Friedrich of Supervalu, the region's largest supermarket wholesaler, which fills the shelves at Cub Foods, Lunds and Byerly's, Jerry's Foods and other stores. "Our supply is very low right now. But we've ordered a significant increase -- ten-fold over the normal amount -- and we'll have shipments in by Friday, and more the following week."

If you're planning on baking our winning cookie - and you should, it's fantastic, and so easy to prepare -- here’s our tip: Shop at your local natural foods co-op.

Many stock almond flour in their chilled bulk section. We called around, and here’s what we found:  

All three Lakewinds Food Co-op locations are fully stocked (“Plenty of almond flour here,” said the helpful person at the co-op’s Minnetonka location, and “We just got more in this morning” said the friendly staffer at Lakewinds' Chanhassen location, although, let's face it, pretty much everyone in co-opland is friendly). Ditto Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville.

It’s the same story at the Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis, which reports a sizeable inventory on hand (pictured, above) and more on order.

At Seward Co-op in Minneapolis, “We did have a run on almond flour when the recipe first came out, a pretty significant spike,” said marketing manager Tom Vogel. “But we definitely have it, and we’re bracing for the next run on demand.”

A few co-ops — Eastside Food Co-op in Minneapolis, and both locations of Mississippi Market in St. Paul — skip the bulk-section thing and go the packaged route (find it in the baking supplies aisle). Still, all three stores say they’ve got almond flour on hand.

The best news? Buying in bulk at local natural foods co-ops is a fairly reliable best-value situation, with prices usually hovering in the $8.50/pound range. By comparison, some supermarkets charge as much as $14 for a l-lb. bag. Oh, and if you've never shopped at a co-op before, don't worry about membership issues; you don't need to become a member/owner to shop.

Two other options: We’ve heard from readers that they’ve seen plenty of almond flour on the shelves at SuperTarget stores. Almond meal — a coarser and less-expensive version of almond flour, and perfectly acceptable for this recipe — appears to be in stock at most Trader Joe’s stores (TJ's private label almond meal is the ingredient of choice for winning baker William Teresa).

You could save the trip to the supermarket and buy online. At nuts.com, a l-lb. bag is $8.99, and at Honeyville, a 3-lb. bag (the smallest available) is $26.99.

Or make your own. It's easy: Buy blanched, shelled almonds and grind them in a food processor until they take on the texture of wet sand. Watch carefully; grind too much, and you'll end up with almond butter.

'Tis the season for cookie contests

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: December 9, 2014 - 7:19 AM

When it comes to our holiday cookie contest, the Star Tribune isn't alone (that's an image -- by Star Tribune photographer Tom Wallace -- of Chocolate Peppermint Cookies, a finalist in this year's 12th-annual survey, which drew nearly 300 entries). December is the month when newspapers across the country are publishing the results of their annual bake-a-thons. Here's a quick rundown:

The Chicago Tribune's 28th-annual competition attracted 100 bakers, and shines the spotlight on Erna's Crescents from Erna Steinbrenner of Downer's Grove, Ill. It's a rolled cookie (with a sour cream dough), filled with ground walnuts.

The seventh-annual cookie showdown at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel drew 106 entries and singled out Three Wiseman Treasures from Jane Mathews of Franksville, Wis., a drop cookie with pecans, dates, crystallized ginger and a dash of cardamom and curry powder. 

The Tampa Bay Times' 13th-annual holiday bakefest drew nearly 500 participants, and food editor Janet Keeler doesn't select a winner, preferring to highlight favorites, which include Noelettes from Lisa Smith of St. Petersburg, Fla. (a chocolate cookie topped with chopped pistachios and candied orange peel); Cran-Pistachio Cookies from Josette Konczeski of Tampa, Fla. (a sugar cookie embellished with nuts and dried fruit); and Amaretto Chunk Cookies from Florence Tirabassi of Kenneth City, Fla. (a liqueur-flavored drop cookie with coconut, chocolate and sliced almond grace notes).

The Dallas Morning News will publish the results of its 19th-annual contest on Dec. 10, and the Hartford Courant will follow on Dec. 18.

At the Los Angeles Times, Vesta Bars took to the top spot among 100-plus entries; the recipe is being published on Dec. 20.

Other newspapers are definitely in a holiday baking mood, even if they steer clear of contest mode. I know I'm going to tackle the Cranberry Ecstacy Bars from the Portland Oregonian (a test-kitchen remake of a popular Starbucks holiday treat), the Linzer Trees (a cutout with roasted almonds and raspberry jam) from the New York Times, Fudgy Walnut Cookies (exactly what their name implies) from the Washington Post and Oatmeal Lace Cookies (thin and crispy and dipped in chocolate) from the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

A Minneapolis baker's winning cookie recipe

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: December 6, 2014 - 12:52 PM

Just when the Star Tribune's Taste Holiday Cookie Contest was putting the spotlight on Twin Cities bakers, another Minneapolis cookie maker was stepping into cookie fame and fortune.

She's Karen Cope, and her formula for Chocolate Croissant Cookies was named the winner in Cook's Country magazine's annual Christmas cookie contest. Along with seeing her name -- and her recipe -- in the magazine, Cope was also awarded $1,000. Congratulations!

CHOCOLATE CROISSANT COOKIES

Makes 20 cookies.

Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. From Cook’s Country magazine and contest winner Karen Cope of Minneapolis. “While Hershey’s isn’t the test kitchen’s favorite milk chocolate (that would be Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate), it is essential in this recipe,” notes the magazine. “Why? Because these cookies were engineered to work with three-rectangle blocks of the iconic milk chocolate. Place one chocolate rectangle in the center of each 4-by-2-inch piece of dough, fold the edges over, and bake seam side down.”

1 c. flour

1/8 tsp. salt

8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature

2 tbsp. granulated sugar

½ tsp. vanilla extract

6 (1.55-oz.) Hershey’s milk chocolate bars, divided

1 egg, slightly beaten

3 tbsp. white sanding sugar

Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt.

In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, cream cheese and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 2 additions, scraping down sides of bowl and mixing until just incorporated. Form dough into a 6-inch disk. Wrap disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Break 5 chocolate bars crosswise along their 3 seams to yield 4 rectangles (you should have 20 pieces in total). On a lightly floured work surface using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 20-by-8-inch rectangle. Cut dough into 20 4-by-2 rectangles. Working with 1 dough rectangle at a time, place 1 chocolate piece crosswise across dough (so chocolate hangs over edges). Fold dough around chocolate. Repeat with remaining 19 pieces of dough and chocolate and place cookies, seam side down, 1 ½ inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Brush tops with egg and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Bake until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Break remaining chocolate bar into pieces, place in a bowl and melt in a microwave oven, stirring occasionally, about 1 minute. Using a spoon, drizzle melted chocolate over tops of cookies. Let chocolate set for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Pillsbury Bake-Off announces million-dollar winner

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: December 3, 2014 - 2:52 PM
Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters won $1 million at this year's Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters won $1 million at this year's Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Is a sweet treat made of packaged ingredients worth a million dollars? (The more important question may be, "Is this really cooking?")

The public apparently thought so when, for the first time ever, the winner of the Pillsbury Bake-Off was determined by those who voted online.

Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters was announced today as the winner, out of the four finalists, which all made heavy use of brand-name products.

Here is the winning recipe and the three finalists (none of the cooks are from Minnesota, or even the Midwest). The brand names have been removed from the recipes as printed here, except where there didn't seem to be an equivalent.

PEANUTTY PIE CRUST CLUSTERS

Makes 30 clusters.

Note: Grand prize winner of 2014 Pillsbury Bake-Off. From Beth Royals of Richmond, Virginia. This appears to be a variation, sort of, of Pearson's Salted Nut Roll. 

1 refrigerated pie crust, softened as directed on box

1 bag (12 ounce) white vanilla baking chips (2 cups)

1 tablespoon butter-flavored all-vegetable shortening 

1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter

1 cup salted cocktail peanuts

2/3 cup toffee bits

Directions

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with wax paper.

Unroll pie crust on work surface. With pizza cutter or knife, cut into 16 rows by 16 rows to make small squares. Arrange squares in single layer on large ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove squares from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 5 minutes.

In large microwavable bowl, microwave baking chips, shortening and peanut butter uncovered on High 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds, stirring once, until chips can be stirred smooth. Add pie crust squares, peanuts and toffee bits; stir gently until evenly coated. Immediately drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto lined cookie sheets. (If mixture gets too thick, microwave on High 15 seconds; stir.) Refrigerate about 15 minutes or until set. Store covered.

Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets, a finalist in the Pillsbury Bake-Off

Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets, a finalist in the Pillsbury Bake-Off

CUBAN-STYLE SANDWICH POCKETS

Makes 6 sandwiches.

Note: From Courtney Sawyer, Bellingham, Wash.

3 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

2 cans refrigerated seamless dough for crescent rolls

8 ounces ground pork

6 slices (3/4 ounce each) cooked ham from deli

6 slices (3/4 ounce each) Swiss cheese

18 dill pickle chips

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray large cookie sheet with no-stick cooking spray.

In small bowl, mix mustard and cumin. Unroll dough sheets on work surface. Cut each sheet into thirds. Press each third into 7 ½  by 4 ½ -inch rectangle. Spread mustard mixture evenly over each rectangle to within 1/2 inch of edges.

Shape pork into 6 (3-inch) squares; place over mustard on each rectangle. Top each pork patty with 1 slice ham, 1 slice cheese and 3 pickle chips. Fold dough over filling; press edges firmly with fork to seal. Prick top of each pocket 3 times with fork. Place pockets 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.

Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown and meat thermometer inserted in center of pockets reads 160 degrees. (It’s easy to substitute crescent dinner rolls for the seamless dough sheet. Just unroll the dough and firmly press perforations to seal),

Chocolate Doughnut Poppers, a finalist in the Pillsbury Bake-Off

Chocolate Doughnut Poppers, a finalist in the Pillsbury Bake-Off

CHOCOLATE DOUGHNUT POPPERS

Makes 9 doughnut poppers.

Note: From Megan Beimer of Carlsbad, Calif.

1 can refrigerated seamless dough for crescent rolls

5 tablespoons chocolate-flavored hazelnut spread

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1/2 cup powdered sugar

3 to 4 teaspoons milk

1/4 cup finely chopped nuts

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly sprinkle work surface with flour. Unroll dough on work surface; press to form 12- by 9-inch rectangle. With pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut into 3 rows by 3 rows to make 9 rectangles.

Spoon rounded teaspoonful hazelnut spread onto center of each rectangle. Brush edges of rectangles with melted butter. Bring dough up around filling to cover completely. Pinch edges together to seal; shape into ball. Place seam side down, 2 inches apart, on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack. Cool 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, mix powdered sugar and milk with whisk until smooth and thin enough to glaze. Dip top of each doughnut popper into glaze; place on parchment paper. Let stand about 1 minute or until glaze is set. Place nuts in small bowl. Dip each popper into glaze again, then into nuts. Serve warm.

Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers

Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers

CREAMY CORN-FILLED SWEET PEPPERS

Makes 22.

Note: From Jody Walker of Madison, Miss.

1 bag (11 oz.) Green Giant Steamers frozen honey-roasted sweet corn

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

11 mini-sweet peppers (3 to 4 inches long), cut in half lengthwise leaving stem attached, seeded

1 can refrigerated seamless dough for crescent rolls or 1 can refrigerated crescent dinner rolls (8 rolls)

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Microwave corn as directed on bag. Cut open bag; cool 10 minutes.

In large bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add corn, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese and 1/2 teaspoon of the Italian seasoning; mix well. Place cream cheese mixture in large resealable food-storage plastic bag. Cut off 1/2 inch from corner of bag. Squeeze bag to pipe filling into each pepper half.

 Unroll dough. (If using crescent roll dough, firmly press perforations to seal.) Press to form 11 by 9inch rectangle. With pizza cutter or knife, cut dough into 22 (9 by 1/2-inch) strips.

 Wrap 1 dough strip around each pepper, from stem to tip. Place filling-side up on cookie sheet, tucking in ends of dough under pepper.

Bake 12 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, mix melted butter and remaining 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning. Remove peppers from oven; brush with butter mixture. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese evenly over peppers. Serve warm.

Recipe: Chicken liver mousse

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: December 1, 2014 - 3:46 PM

In a Q&A with Stephanie Meyer, author of the recently released "Twin Cities Chef's Table," I asked if there was a recipe in the book that she was happiest to have for her own kitchen (I was pleased to see the dill pickle fried chicken from chef Beth Fisher at Wise Acre Eatery, and the Crusher Cookies from Sun Street Breads baker/co-owner Solveig Tofte). Her immediate response: the chicken liver mousse with pickled blueberries from chef Erick Harcey at Victory 44

Including the recipe in the story's print edition wasn't possible, so I'm including it here (the photo is by Meyer). Enjoy. 

 

CHICKEN LIVER MOUSSE

Makes 6 4-oz. servings.

Splash of olive oil

4 shallots, minced

4 strips bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 thyme sprigs

1 lb. cleaned chicken livers

1/4 c. bourbon

3/4 lb. (3 sticks) plus 6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, divided

3/4 c. heavy cream

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add shallots, bacon, garlic and thyme and sauté, stirring frequently, until caramelized, about 15 minutes.

Add chicken livers and sauté, stirring a few times, until livers are cooked halfway through, about 5 minutes. Carefully add bourbon (noting that it is flammable) and cooked until almost dry, about 5 minutes.

Discard thyme sprigs and transfer mixture to a blender. With blender on low speed, slowly add 3/4 pound (3 sticks) butter, a few tablespoons at a time. When fully incorporated, add cream and mix until incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Press mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and transfer to 4-ounce jars or ramekins and cool to room temperature.

Melt remaining 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter and top each jar or ramekin with 1/4-inch melted butter. Cover and chill until cold.

Serve with crackers and pickled blueberries (see Recipe). Can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

PICKLED BLUEBERRIES

Makes about 4 cups.

1 c. apple cider vinegar

1/2 c. sugar

1 3/4 tbsp. salt

2 thyme sprigs

1 qt. (4 c.) fresh blueberries

2 shallots, peeled and sliced

Directions

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine vinegar, sugar, salt and thyme sprigs and bring to a boil. Stir in blueberries and shallots, then set aside to cool completely before serving.

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