ali drawing

Cardamon Apricot Cookies

Recently I've been a little obsessed with the show Unique Sweets. They essentially travel around the US and find the best sweets that fit a particular subject. The best part is that the shops and sweets that are featured really are quite unique and amazing. While watching the show one day I found myself inspired by a donut shop in San Francisco. The donuts sold at Dynamo don't seem like your normal run of the mill donuts, they sell bizarre flavors like Chocolate Rose Geranium Hazelnut and Bacon Maple Apple. There was one donut in particular though that made me want to run to the kitchen, or run to the shop in SF: the apricot cardamom. I am aware that not everyone is a huge cardamom fan but I love the stuff and loved the thought of making a spicy cookie with a sweet jam glaze. Hence was born my Cardamom Ginger Cookie with Sugar Brandy Apricot Glaze.

This cookie will have to rank as one of my favorites. It tastes almost like a chai, has a nice chew to it and they're light enough that you just want to keep eating them, one after another.

Ginger Cardamom Cookie

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (fresh if you can find it, remove from shells and grind with mortal and pestle)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons light packed brown sugar
  • 1/6 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large eggs
  • Sugar Brandy Apricot Glaze

    • 1/2 plus 2 Tablespoons confectionary sugar
    • 1 tablespoons cognac
    • 1 tablespoons milk
    • 2 tablespoons apricot jam

    Candied Dried Apricots

    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 1/8 cup of whole apricots cut into pieces the size of raisins

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

    Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ground ginger and salt into a large bowl. Set aside.

    In a large bowl beat the brown sugar and butter and until fluffy, about 3 mins. Add the egg and mix till combined. Finally, add the flour mixture and mix until combined again.

    Make dough balls about the size half a tablespoon and flatten between your palms to form a cookie shape. Place on a cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 13-15 mins until cookies are a light brown on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.

    While cookies are cooling in a small bowl combine confectionary sugar, cognac, and milk. In in small pot add the apricot jam and place over medium heat. Stir and leave over heat until the jam loosens, about 3 mins. Take jam and combine with sugar mixture. Your mixture should be about the consistency of sugar cookie frosting. If too loose add more confectionary sugar and if it's too thick add more milk.

    For the candied apricots, place sugar in a skillet over medium heat stirring as little as possible. After a few minutes your sugar will start to liquify, as it's on it's way to making caramel. Keep an eye on it, stirring every now and again to distribute heat. Once it has completely liquified and is a nice amber color remove pan from heat and add apricot pieces, stirring to coat each piece in the liquid. Turn out apricots onto a non-stick surface and separate pieces from each other with two forks. Be careful not to touch the apricots until cool as the caramel is incredibly hot and can cause nasty burns.

    Once cookies are cool, frost each with the sugar glaze and top with a piece of candied apricot. Have questions or see something I missed? Let me know!

    Homemade Tagalongs

    It's the time of year when girl scouts or parents of girl scouts are out with their cookie order forms pushing their delicious, addictive treats. I love but hate that they only come around once a year. Knowing that the cookies wouldn't be around for long I started wondering how hard would it be to make my own. Could I recreate one of my favorite girl scout cookies? So began my baking adventure of trying to recreate the Tagalong.

    Of course as soon as I had the idea of making my own Tagalongs I turned to the internet to do some research. I landed on a site that I frequent for it's great food pictures and even though I'd never tried one of their recipes I decided to give it a go. The results were a little sad. I followed the recipe to the end without questioning it and found it lacking in the following ways. There was less peanut butter filling than was necessary, the shortbread cookie recipe used wasn't quite sturdy enough and so when dipped in chocolate it became a little chewy instead of having that nice bite and the instructions for the chocolate coating should have called for more liquid to thin it down more as it was hard to get a light coating of chocolate. Finally, it called for dark chocolate which I thought might be a nice spin on the childhood favorite and would make the cookie a little more adult but I found that it just overwhelmed all the other ingredients. Everything combined the result left you only tasting dark chocolate. Which is delicious but not a Tagalong.

    After throwing away the disappointing results I decided to pull pieces of recipes from different places around the web. I found a good recipe for simple shortbread, another for peanut butter filling and then researched the best way to chocolate coat sweets. I should have researched the latter a bit more, as I found a great post from David Lebowitz after I had already dipped my cookies. In the end, after many many hours and chocolate over everything I was incredibly happy with the results.

    Shortbread Cookie:

    • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1 cups all purpose flour
    • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • up to 1 tablespoons milk

    Peanut Butter Filling:

    • 1.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
    • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

    Chocolate Coating:

    Approximately 15 oz bittersweet chocolate (I'd use more if you don't mind wasting a bit or can find another purpose as dunking will be much easier with more chocolate).

    Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking tray with parchment paper.

    Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl until fluffy. Add in dry ingredients to the sugar/butter mixture. Next, add the vanilla and just enough milk to make the dough come together.

    Roll out the dough until it's 1/4 in thick and using a cookie cutter or in my case the top of a spice jar lid cut out 1 inch cookie rounds. Place on parchment paper about 1 in from each other (they're not going to expand much at all). Bake for 10-12 mins until the bottoms are a very light golden brown. Cool cookies on wire racks.

    For the peanut butter filling simple combine all ingredients and beat until combined.

    Once cookies are cool take each and apply about a teaspoon of peanut butter filling forming a small mound on the top of the cookie that reaches to the edge.

    Place peanut butter topped cookies in the freezer on a baking tray for about an hour so that everything stiffens into place before being dipped into warm chocolate.

    When cookies are sufficiently frozen, place chocolate in a small bowl over a simmering pot of water and temper (David Lebovitz has a great post on exactly how to do this). Finally, take tempered chocolate and start dipping the frozen cookies, coating on both sides. Be sure to shake cookies after dipping to insure a light coating.

    Sidenote: Like I said before I discovered David Lebovitz's post a little late and so I just kept the chocolate on the steam until just melted and dipped each one individually by hand. Because it was so time consuming the chocolate would cool and as I continued to dip the latter cookies didn't have the nice sheen that comes when using chocolate at just the right temperature. What I will try next time is to put the cookies in a sieve and lower a few at a time into a pot of chocolate. I believe this will allow me to dip more cookies at once at the right time and temp and then extract each one with chopsticks.

    Baking Resolution: German Christmas Cookies

    This week I decided on German Christmas cookies after discovering an intriguing recipe for a flourless almond cookie with a meringue topping. I couldn't recall ever having had a cookie quite like this and so decided to give it a go. So, this week I bring you: Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars) and Lebkuchen.

    Zimtsterne is the flourless cookie I was referring to above. It's basically ground almonds, cinnamon and powdered sugar held together by egg whites. The baking is bit time consuming as the heat needs to be low for the meringue to cook just right and they were a little tricky to cut since the almond chunks blocked my cookie cutter. That said, it could have just been me having bought whole almonds instead of slivered and so my dough might have been a little chunkier. After resorting to the cap from a spice jar to cut the cookies instead of my cute star I was golden. I wouldn't say these are one of my favorites but they are quite interesting and something I'm actually really glad I experienced. They are texturally quite amazing with the crunchy almond bottom and the the airy light crunch that the meringue gives. This cookie made me think about all the amazing parts of different cookies I can combine together to make something unique and hopefully delicious. So, good cookie to try but make another as a companion, I would say anything chewy and chocolate but then I'm completely addicted to chocolate so of course I would say that.

    The Lebkuchen is essentially a spice cookie with sugar frosting. It's a perfectly ok cookie that has a chew and an ok flavor but there's nothing that special about it. The recipe I found suggested that it was a bit tricky since the dough needs to be quite cold before you bake or else it flattens out too much but I didn't have a problem. My dough lived in my freezer for a day or two since I made it ahead of time they seemed to come out just fine.

    In my opinion, nothing too crazy this week but the Zimtserne got my mind going and I see it as a good building block for things to come. What's next you may be asking. Since there are so many recipes I want to try I've been considering grouping them or coming up with a theme. The next two weeks are booked with rugelach's, because they are one of my all time favorite cookies and I've never made them, and then homemade girl scout cookies since it's that time of year but maybe after that... Baking around the world so that I can discover new tastes and textures? Any great ideas, send them my way.

    Baking Resolution: Ginger Cookies and the Great Lemon Cookie Off

    If you know me at all, you know that I have a horrible addiction, an addiction to baking. I usually have it pretty well under control and only give in when there is a special occasion like a birthday or a house warming and then I'll produce a cake or a pie. This year I've resolved to just give into the addiction. What's the worst that can happen? I only see positives: I can improve my baking skills and make my coworkers happy at the same time. My plan through the end of the year is to bake something new once a week. I'm a little behind with the blogging so this post will serve as the results of the last two weeks: brown butter ginger cookies with mascarpone cream and the great lemon cookie off.

    Week 1: Brown Butter Ginger Cookies with Mascarpone Cream

    These cookies are like a dream for me and out of all the cookies that I've brought into the office these are the ones that people have really clamored for. I am big fan of anything ginger so I'm a little biased but this cookie has a great number of things going for it even if ginger isn't your usual go to. The cookie itself is chewy on the inside but has a slight crunch to the outside which gives a nice contrast to the sweet, smooth cream of the mascarpone. Because the cookie has a wonderful spicy/nutty flavor the filling isn't and doesn't need to be overly sweet, making the cookie taste light and delicate. Everything combined, it's a cookie that makes you feel a little warm inside, the perfect one for winter. Another bonus, it's pretty easy to make. See the recipe over on not without salt.

    Week 2: Lemon cookie off

    I have been craving something lemon for months now and since I'm on this new baking kick I decided that now would be the perfect time to satiate my urge. Not having a favorite lemon cookie recipe on hand but having so many recipes I want to try I decided to experiment a bit by pinning two very different lemon cookies against each other, lemon ricotta with lemon frosting and lemon spritz cookies with lemon cream filling. Each recipe was pretty straightforward but the results surprised me a bit. I usually taste test the dough and the fillings while prepping to make sure I didn't do something horribly wrong, like use salt instead of sugar, and so while tasting these cookies I would have guessed the ricotta to be the winner hands down. I was only half right.

    The ricotta cookies are beautiful when they come out of the oven. They're smooth, soft little pale pillows of lemony goodness. Once cooked and frosted they almost melt in your mouth. The lemon spritz sandwich cookies on the other hand are a little crunchy but like the cookie from last week the cream in the middle it gives it a great contrast. The surprise for me was how much more I actually liked the sandwich cookie. Where the ricotta has a great lemon/sugar punch the sandwich cookie is a bit more subtle and therefore more interesting in flavor and texture. I believe the consensus of the people is that the lemon ricotta is the overall favorite but for myself and the foodies I know the sandwich cookie is the way to go and is the lemon cookie I will turn to when the craving surfaces.

    Watch for next week's post on German christmas cookies. I've just started prepping the dough and can't wait to see how they come out.

    New Year’s Resolutions

    It's that time again, the time to make and then try to stick to new years resolutions. I'm not great at New Year's resolutions. I usually make small ones that I don't really care about and then forget about them. I've decided that this year will be different, and I'm really aiming for a year of good professional improvement. Of course there are small non-professional goals I'm setting for myself like trying to floss everyday and I'm going to try, I really am but if those fall by the wayside I might just be ok with it. So here is the rundown of things I will accomplish this year (I'm trying to think positively): start speaking at conferences again, create an illustration once every other week, bake something new once a week and keep my blog up to date.

    Just a few years ago I had the opportunity to speak a number of conferences, mostly about open government and design since I was working for a non-profit that are advocates for government transparency. This should have been a good platform for me to jump off from but I sadly didn't take advantage of it. As nerve-racking as speaking was I did really enjoy it and am sad that I didn't continue with it.

    The goals of drawing and baking are, for me, about experimentation and improving my skills through that experimentation. I am very passionate about both design and cooking and anything I can do to improve those skills would be ideal. Giving myself this little push to make sure I'm producing and getting more comfortable in both mediums will help in the long run, fingers crossed. As of this moment I'm a little behind on the illustrating. I know, I know… I have one in progress and should be done by the weekend. You can see the start of my illustration to the right. The baking on the other hand has been quite successful. So far I have made brown butter ginger cookies with mascarpone cream and this week I had a little lemon cookie showdown, blog post forthcoming. I pinned lemon spritz sandwich cookies with lemon cream against frosted lemon ricotta cookies. I prefer the sandwich cookies but sadly I think the ricotta ones may have won out.

    Finally, as for the blogging I think having new illustrations and interesting adventures in baking to share once a week will help loosen me up to write more and so hopefully down the road I'll have more content to contribute.

    In the end I'm going to just keep moving, maybe sleep a little less and buy a giant calendar so that my OCD side can feel satisfied when I check something off my list once a week. Wish me luck!

    Moving Along

    As I'm writing this post I believe I have finally gotten to a point where I'm comfortable sharing my site but feel as if it is far from done. I quickly wanted to run through my thoughts about the site, and what I intent to do with it.

    If you happened to see my old site hopefully you remember that the header on the home page changed based on the weather in Washington D.C. When it rained outside, it rained on my site, when it was nighttime, stars came out and started to sparkle. I loved this aspect of my old site and still hope to do the same with my current one but this time with jquery instead of flash. One new addition is that as the weather changes the illustration of myself will change along with it based on how I feel about the weather. I've taken a number of photos to use as references and need to start sketching.

    photos of me in different states

    If you have the unfortunate luck of viewing my site on a smart phone then you will notice pretty quickly that the navigation bar overlaps the content as you move around. It's positioned in such a way that in a regular web browser it will follow along the side of the site as you scroll down. Unfortunately on a smart phone because, as you zoom in it stays in one place while the other content moves creating some strange overlapping. My solution: make my personal site responsive. Don't know exactly what that means? In a nutshell my site will grow and shrink in width based on the device or size of the browser window you're viewing it in.

    Finally, like with everything else in life, there are a million other small tweaks I'd love to change and/or create on the site and a goofy infographic about myself, which includes a timeline of my many broken bones, changes in ice cream preferences, cities I've lived in, etc..., which is already in the works. In Conclusion, hopefully you can enjoy the site as is for now and learn a bit about me but keep an eye out for many more updates within the next month.

    New Beginnings

    Welcome to the new alifelski.com. For those of you who are new to the site this is what it used to look like. I was lucky enough to even win the best personal portfolio with it at SXSW in 2009. Then last winter I got sick. Nothing too concerning but distracting enough that my domain expired and my site went down. By the time I got around to thinking about it the site had been deleted forever. Finally wiping away the tears I am hopefully moving on to bigger and better things. So follow along as I learn and rebuild.

    Let me know what you think, leave a note below