Monday, April 16, 2012

Ricotta Cookies and an Old Friend

When I was in college, I found an inexpensive Sunbeam hand mixer on clearance at Target. If memory serves, it cost something like $11. Not only did it have the standard beaters, but a whisk, a paddle, and a milkshake spindle. Until a little over a year ago, it was my only mixer. I wanted a stand mixer, but never felt I could justify spending the money a good one would cost. Being limited to a hand mixer didn't hold me back much -- I've made a metric ton of cookies and cakes and the like over the years, in addition to using the other attachments for a million other things. I've also made yeast breads, but always by hand -- kneading is a great stress-reliever, if a bit messy.

Then, last December I hurt my back and was essentially in bed for 2 weeks. I spent a lot of time web surfing on my netbook, and found myself on the KitchenAid Outlet web site. Between my upcoming birthday and my bedridden state, I was vulnerable to the terrific deal on the factory refurbished, all-metal gear, 6-qt bowl, 575-Watt, onyx black, "Professional" line thing of beauty I found. After all these years the hand mixer is still going strong, but I was ready -- more than ready -- for a grown-up mixer. I wanted to do some Serious Mixing when I got back on my feet.

The New Guard watches the Old Guard make cookies
It's great to have the KitchenAid, especially one so large & powerful. I made several batches of marshmallows, for example. Those require a motor with heft & stamina; the hand mixer would never have made it through. (Most regular stand mixers wouldn't make it through.) It's great for the stiff cookie doughs I'd never try with the hand mixer. Of course the dough hook makes yeast breads much easier, too. Still, when I want to make something simple, I find myself pulling out the little Sunbeam.

This weekend I made a batch of ricotta cookies from a recipe I've used for many years. In fact, I was only going to make half a batch, so I didn't need to fire up the KitchenAid. Old Sunny would do just fine.

The cookies were part of a dessert platter I had for Sunday after lunch with my friend Matt. They were accompanied by local organic strawberries from my CSA, Fresh Harvest, as well as cool white chocolate ganache and warm dark chocolate ganache. It was fun to try different combinations of fruit, cookie, and the two chocolates. The strawberries were nice and ripe but not terribly sweet, so having the chocolate to go with them was especially welcome.

photo by Matt
Photo by Matt, who also helped eat them

The cookies themselves are a little unusual -- they are soft (but not gooey) and rise quite a bit, so that they are almost like sturdy little cakes. The flavor is subtle, rich with vanilla, and that makes them perfect to go with lots of things, from coffee to ice cream. They are also small, nice to have around when you want just a bite of something sweet. As you might guess from the featured ingredient, ricotta cookies are Italian in origin, and are often flavored with lemon juice and zest. I like them with lemon, but I thought the plan variety would be more suitable with the ganache. As is usual with basic baked goods, I also think they would be good with an addition of almond extract.

It's also a good recipe to have in your repertoire because they are drop cookies -- easy to mix, no refrigeration of the dough or rolling/cutting required. You also don't have to be terribly fussy about the way you mound the dough on the cookie sheet if you don't mind slightly irregular shapes. A cookie scoop helps form more evenly-sized, round cookies, but I just used two iced tea spoons.

Ready for the oven

The recipe below is the full recipe; I frequently make only half. I also usually serve them as is, but you'll frequently find recipes where they are iced with a confectioner's sugar glaze. You could also sprinkle with coarse sugar before baking.

Ricotta Cookies

adapted from several sources

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese*
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula occasionally if necessary. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the ricotta and vanilla and beat until well blended, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. With the mixer on medium low speed, gradually beat in the flour mixture until well combined, but do not overmix. 

Using a small cookie scoop or a teaspoon, drop dough 2 inches apart onto cookie sheets (preferably lined with parchment paper). Bake until the cookies start to brown on the bottom, about 11 to 13 minutes (the tops will not brown). Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to rest on the cookie sheet for 1 to 2 minutes before transferring them with a spatula to wire racks to cool completely.

*I use whole milk ricotta

Variation: If you'd like the traditional lemon flavoring, add the zest and juice of one lemon with the ricotta and vanilla.


Lesley Eats said...

Hilarious--I have that exact KA (bought new w/ wedding gift proceeds!) and almost that exact Sunbeam!

TL said...

Freaky! :D