Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Raisin Pillows

I quit my editing job the other day.  My teaching and volunteer work were taking so much time that I felt anxious about the thought of having one more thing to do. The French rhythm of "work really hard, then do absolutely nothing" is starting to rub off on me, though I feel it might just take it out of me instead.

So yes, this is another one of those posts in which I bake even though rationally I should be doing something else. Just because I promised to bring cookies to a meeting of parent volunteers didn't necessarily mean I had to choose a recipe that was a giant project. Or even bake at all, for that matter.

But you know me: I have to go by the book. And the book said Raisin Pillows. And lo, I made them, even though I had to finish them at 6 AM. And lo, they were good.

OK, the name "raisin pillows" is not terribly promising. And Maida's claim that this was an Early American treat was also a bit eyebrow-raising. But never fear: these are not the quickest cookies ever to make, but they're really good--if you happen to like butter and vanilla and rum raisins.

Although the process takes a while, it's quite simple: you chop up some raisins and other ingredients and cook it down to a filling and let it sit. Then you make a quick little sweet dough in the food processor and refrigerate that.

Then you go and teach a night class and come home too tired to think about rolling out and baking cookies. So you get up early and roll out dough.

Then, because you don't really have time to cut out rounds and do a bunch of re-rolling, you cut squares and fold little triangles. And when that turns out to be too messy (this dough is quite spongy and crumbly), you cut the squares in half and make little sandwiches.

Then you send your daughter to school with a large ball of raw cookie dough and pack most of the baked cookies in a Tupperware before you run off for the 9AM meeting. And bask in the compliments as the moms who aren't on diets enjoy a cookie or two "and one for the road." Once again, it's all paid off and Maida has proven that humble little raisin-filled sugar cookies can be a real treat.

Here's the recipe. Make these when you have the time...or not.

Raisin Pillows

1/4 c. (1.25 oz.) sugar
1 c. (5 oz.) raisins
Grated zest of 1/2 large (organic) orange
1/3 c. (2.7 oz.) orange juice and/or water (I mostly used water because I don't like the taste of cooked orange juice)
2 t. lemon juice
1 T. rum (Maida says this is optional, but I disagree)
1-1/2 t. (0.25 oz.) butter

(Note: this is half of the recipe in the book. I had way more filling than I needed, and unlike Maida, I don't like raisin filling on toast.)
Put the sugar, raisins, orange zest, and orange juice/water in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 5-10 times until the raisins are coarsely chopped. Maida says they should look like "large egg caviar". Put the mixture in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring it to a low boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Take off the heat and add the lemon juice, rum, and butter. Cool to room temperature and chill until ready to use. Now make the dough:

3 c. (12 oz) sifted flour--I used 1 c. whole-wheat pastry flour
1 T. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 c. (7 oz.) sugar
1 c. (8 oz.) butter, room temp is best
2 t. vanilla
1 large egg
1/3 c. (2.7 oz.) milk

In the bowl of the food processor, put the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Pulse until mixed. Add the butter (cut it into pieces first) and pulse that until well incorporated. Throw in the vanilla, egg, and milk and process until it holds together in a smooth dough. Scrape the dough out onto a large piece of waxed or parchment paper and refrigerate at least 3 hours (or freeze for 30-60 minutes).
When you're ready to bake, heat the oven to 350. Get out a mat, a rolling pin, and a little custard cup of flour: if you're like me, you'll need to flour rather heavily. Also line some cookie sheets with foil or parchment. Work with the dough one third at a time: roll it out to 1/8 inch, if you can--this dough is rather wet and stubborn. If you're a patient person, use a 2-inch round cookie cutter and cut circles as close together as possible. Refrigerate dough scraps for later. If you're not patient, cut into squares that are as even as possible. I'm just going to assume you're patient: put a teaspoonful of raisin filling on half of the circles and cover each with a "plain" round; crimp the edges with a fork and put on the lined cookie sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough. Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool, and serve with pride.

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