Monday, December 15, 2014

Alpha Bakers - The Ischler

A trusted authority once assured me that Christmas Eve is for Cookies. If we extend the Christmas Eve framework to encompass the month of December (and as everyone knows, we do), then yesterday was a true expression of the dream (everything is awesome).

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!!!! (sorry, finally watched the LEGO Movie last night and even though it's a giant commercial, it is pretty good, and that song is insidious in the highest degree)

But why is this Jew making Christmas cookies? Well, I'm sure you caught the part about cookies.
And also, why not? And also, some really great people came over to make them with me. The cookie team assembled at 10:30 AM, and by 4:30 PM we were...almost done. If you're tired of me being so frantically cheery, here's where you get your kicks, because we definitely hit cookie burn-out before stuffing all the cute little bags, and if I had to cover myself in relentless holiday cheer on the regular I would be Not Happy. I do love most of the trapping of Christmas, but like any oversold quantity, it's easy to get overloaded, especially the day after the dreaded SantaCon*.

Still, with all that, cookies are wonderful and so is spending time with wonderful people and listening to music I haven't heard in ten years, and so we baked all day. What did we make, oh lucky landlords and co-workers of the world? Biscotti, gingerbread, bergamot caramels, and the glamorous sandwich cookie known in Rose-land as The Ischler. I like a cookie with a title--it has a bit more weight than just 'oatmeal raisin' or 'brandy snap.' You know right off the bat that this cookie is an institution with the full weight of the treasury behind it.

It's also a very classic Rose Levy Beranbaum cookie, with the flavors of Eastern Europe hard by (the original inspiration is Hungarian, I believe). A buttery almond cookie, sandwiched with a layer of thick ganache and a layer of apricot levkar (I used some thick preserves). I had made these before as part of the Beta Testing for this book, and they were a pleasure and a joy both times. The dough is a little sticky but not to the point of absurdity, and the flavor combination is up my street as well (would you ever guess that I too am an Ashkenazi wonder, Rose?). Also, they just look so pretty and stick so well.
Sometimes I'm the lone ranger of baking, putting in long hours with just the oven and the television, but yesterday I was joined by some of the best people in the world. Above is A's first encounter with the stand mixer, and she loved it, especially when she got to give the call on how fast it should spin. In the space of a few weeks she's gone from someone who can say a few words when prompted to someone who can carry on whole conversations with content, and it changes everything. That and the fact that she has one of the all-time best personalities in the history of all-time best people makes her a very welcome guest.

I like these big people a lot too. So much. I can't give out the recipe for The Ischler (shhh, it's here), but here's the recipe for the biscotti, courtesy of Nicola, A, and Eileen, one of the best bakers I know. It's possible I've posted these before, but they bear repeating. They are a treasure, people. Make them now.


2-3/4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
3-1/2 oz. white chocolate, cut into pieces
1-2/3 cups whole almonds toasted
2 large eggs
1/4 cup plus 1 TBSP apricot flavored brandy
2 tsp almond extract
1 6-ounce package dried apricots, diced


Line large cookie sheet with foil. Butter and flour foil. Combine first 6 ingredients in processor. Process until fine meal forms. Add white chocolate and process until finely chopped. Add toasted almonds and chop coarsely, using 6-8 on/off turns. Beat eggs, brandy and extract to blend in large bowl. Add flour mixture and apricots and stir until moist dough forms.

Drop dough by spoonfuls in three 12-inch long strips on prepared sheet. Moisten fingertips and shape each dough strip into 2-inch wide log. Refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350F. Bake until logs are golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer sheet to rack and cool completely.

Reduce heat to 300F. Cut logs from sides of pan if necessary. Transfer to work surface. Using heavy sharp knife, cut each log crosswise into 3/4-inch wide slices. Arrange half of cookies cut side down on cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes. Gently turn cookies over and bake 10 minutes longer. Transfer cookies to racks. Repeat baking with remaining cookies. Cool cookies completely. (Can be prepared 2 weeks ahead; store in airtight container at room temperature.)
Makes about 40

*For anyone who has not experienced the horror that is SantaCon, all you need to know is that overgrown fratboys and girls like to wear Santa outfits and get horribly drunk all over NY. That they chose to do so this year on a day when tens of thousands of people were out protesting police brutality and racism was just the icing on the gingerbread house.


Unknown said...

I like the cookie cutter shape you used. Nice post!

evil cake lady said...

Your joy in making these cookies is apparent in how you write about them. I think you've unlocked the secret to enjoying cookie being: friends and music! I will try that next time. I live that you called the Ischler an institution with the full weight of the treasury; that should be the description in the book!

evil cake lady said...

*cookie baking :)

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

I too like a cookie with a title! Sadly, I wasn't fond of the flavor of these cookies, but I did enjoy the process.

Patricia @ ButterYum

Unknown said...

It's funny how food can transcend cultural and religious barriers. I like Marie's introduction to TBB where she tells of her interest in a Christmas Cookie book written by a Jewish cook (Rose, of course).

Your littlest helper looks very cute.

Unknown said...

One of my favorite cookies to make at Christmas time is the rugelach, so either baking transcends dogma or I'm an insensitive clod. Everyone looks so happy on your blog!

Mendy said...


I'm sure if we looked hard enough we could find a source for making cookies for Chanukah. When has a Jew ever needed an excuse to eat anyway? :)

Cookie baking with friends and good, engaging conversation sounds lovely. Glad to be baking along with you.

Katya said...

Yep, we're all sunshine around here, for sure. And I have a double recipe of rugelach dough in the refrigerator.

Katya said...

Mendy, we could deep-fry them...

Faithy said...

Lego Movie is awesome? I haven't seen it and was wondering if i should...since I'm not a fan of Lego. I liked my barbie doll better....LOL! Your little girl looks so sweet and pretty! you tempt me with your biscotti recipe..i have to make them too!

Faithy said...

And i have never heard of SantaCon...seems that in US there are a lot of Cons.. i mean different type of

Michele at The Artful Oven said...

Really enjoyed your beautiful photos and delightful post! Glad to be baking along with you. Please visit me at, where I am giving away one of Rose's favorite kitchen gadgets this week! Hanukkah blessings to a sister from among the Chosen People, our elders in faith (as I fondly refer to my Jewish friends)!--Michele

Vicki said...

My granddaughters spent the night while my son and daughter in law went to Santa Con. I have no idea what it is! What sweet smiling faces you had baking with you!

Joan said...

a delightful little girl and cookies. what could be better

Jenn said...

A whole day of baking with beloved friends. AWESOME!!! I haven't checked out the Lego movie - must rent it now.