Friday, September 11, 2009

Playing Hostess

I’ve missed hosting. It’s been over a year since I’ve hosted any real form of a party or gathering. You’d think that moving to the big city would invite more opportunities for such, but the truth is, my place just isn’t fit to host a whole lot of people. So it was a great feeling to once again tap into my inner Martha Stewart last night as I played host to a couple of girlfriends as we held out our book club meeting.

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As we discussed and analyzed Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo, we munched on pita chips with white bean dip from Giada de Laurentiis’ Everyday Italian (a great variation on hummus!) and pigs in a blanket, inspired by the mini corn dogs over at A Dash of Sass. Basically, I omitted the use of skewers, which would no longer made my version a “corn dog” in essence. I also replaced half the flour with whole wheat flour, and that seemed to help with the stickiness of the dough since it helped absorb a lot of the moisture, along with making these little bites healthier!

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Dessert was inspired by Ceramic Canvas' pistachio icebox butter cookies. The gorgeous photos of the cookies immediately had me salivating, and I knew they would be the perfect little sweet bites for our meeting. My recipe is a hazelnut variation, in ode of the Nutella used to sandwich the cookies. Next time, I think I’d love to throw in some finely chopped chocolate as well to make these extra divine. And while these are not true shortbread cookies, as it does call for one egg, it still has that melt-in-your-mouth texture that we so love in shortbread. Served with Nutella, it’s a little bite of decadence.

Next hosting goal in mind: dinner party!

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Hazelnut Shortbread with Nutella
Adapted from Ceramic Canvas and Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
Makes about 30 sandwich cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar, plus ¼ to ½ cup for rolling
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ cups + 2 tbsp sifted all-purpose flour **
¾ cups chopped toasted and skinned hazelnuts
1 tsp salt
1 jar Nutella

In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and ¼ cup of granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add egg and vanilla extract, and beat to combine. Add flour and salt; mix on low speed until just combined. Add chopped hazelnuts until combined.

Turn dough onto a clean work surface. Divide dough in half and roll each piece into a log about 1 ½-inches in diameter (I like to wrap a paper towel tube around the dough to help with the rolling and shaping process. Be sure to wrap the dough in plastic wrap before you roll in tube!). Wrap well in parchment paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Let dough stand at room temperature until soft enough to slice, about 15 minutes. Roll dough logs in remaining sugar, coating them evenly, and slice into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Place about 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through until golden brown around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

When cooled, spread about 1 teaspoon of Nutella on the bottom side of one cookie and top each with another cookie, creating a sandwich. Enjoy!

** NB: Be sure to sift your flour and then measure again for accuracy; otherwise, you risk getting a dry dough that'll want to crumble on you.


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