December 11, 2019

Dear friends,
Busy much? If so, you might want to buy some of your holiday cookies this year. If you choose the bakery carefully you may be glad you didn’t turn on your oven.

One of the best bakeries in the Akron area for cookies — or anything, really — is Vincent’s Bakery in Cuyahoga Falls. The small mom and pop operation is the kind of bakery where traditions are born. Vincent Massoli started the business in the 1950s with Italian cakes and tea cookies so tender they almost dissolve on your tongue. His son, Nick, who for years now has run the place, still bakes everything from scratch with the family’s time-tested recipes.

The shop’s countertops are stacked with luscious-looking cookie trays that begin with Vincent Massoli’s buttery tea cookie recipe — emphasis on the butter. Real butter, not margarine or tinted shortening. The dough is shaped by hand into candy canes and Christmas trees, or nuts are added or rounds of dough are indented and filled with jam for thumbprints. Flavors are added to some of the dough, toppings are sprinkled on other batches. In all, the tender dough is the basis of 45 varieties of cookies.

Nick and his wife, Tina, generously shared the recipe with me in 2000 for a Beacon Journal article. I’m printing it again for those who want to bake like an Italian grandma this Christmas. Or just let Nick do it. The shop is at 2038 Bailey Road in Cuyahoga Falls. The phone is 330-923-8217.

Is it too early to think about New Year’s get-togethers? In celebration of the bakery’s 63rd year, Nick is offering plain 7-inch Italian cakes for $16 on Dec. 30 and 31 only. Orders must be placed by Dec. 28. The cakes are classic: three layers of sponge cake, a layer of vanilla custard and a layer of chocolate custard, all covered with whipped cream.

“We make our own custard, we make our own sponge cakes,” Nick says. “It’s the way my dad always did it. We haven’t changed anything.”

VINCENT’S TEA COOKIES

3 lbs. butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 lbs. powdered sugar
8 cups unsifted cake flour, divided
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk
1 tbsp. salt
1/2 cup egg whites (4 whites)
3/4 cup water
1 tbsp. vanilla

Beat butter with an electric mixer until very light and fluffy. In another bowl, sift together the powdered sugar, 6 cups of the cake flour, dry milk and salt. Add to the creamed butter a little at a time, beating well. Add egg whites to mixture and beat for one minute on medium speed.

Sift remaining cake flour and add to mixture alternately with water and vanilla to form a soft dough. The dough may be divided into portions and tinted with food coloring to pipe into canes, trees, etc.

Spoon dough into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe batter into 1-inch rounds, crescents or other desired shapes onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes, or until light brown. Remove from trays and cool. The recipe may be cut in half.

Makes several dozen, depending on size.

TIDBITS

Merry Muttmas!
If you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Festivus with a beloved pooch, get yourself and your furry friend to Morty’s Munchies, a wonderful new dog bakery in Akron’s Merriman Valley. In a small shop across from Papa Joe’s and two doors down from Michael’s A.M., owner Nicole bakes and sells her own wares along with other treats and gifts I haven’t seen in chain stores.

I bought some pizza-flavored biscuits and a lick mat, among many other things, for Oscar’s stocking. Nicole named the shop after one of her three dogs. If you live in the Akron area, this is a great chance to shop local.

No-Pudge Eggnog
I gave up eggnog years ago when the calories (just kill me) were first printed on the carton. I devised low-cal versions but they never tasted as rich. Now I’ve found a substitute: Almond milk eggnog.

I know, nut milks taste like a graphite pencil, but after seeing the fairly low calorie count, I decided to give Ajoyo Almond Nog a try. It is richer than my homemade skim-milk eggnog thickened with sugar-free instant pudding. It actually tastes pretty good and has just 100 calories per cup.

My new holiday drink is a half-cup of coffee, a half cup Ajoyo nog, a teaspoon of Splenda and a shot of Bourbon. Heat it up and sip it by the light of a twinkling tree.

GUT CHECK
The only interesting things I made last week were a couple of peanut butter and banana sandwiches and turkey-chickpea soup with coconut milk. I heated up frozen Thai chicken in a coconut curry sauce from Aldi’s and it was pretty good. Buy some (look in the freezer case) if you’re a Thai food lover. I had it over steamed cauliflower rice for a flavorful yet virtuous dinner.

Lunch out was boffo last week. I discovered Sonnet’s Espresso Bar & Restaurant in Wadsworth (late to the party, I know) and you should, too. It’s a coffee house with craft beers on tap and a real chef in the kitchen.

The waiter/bartender (owner? chef?) told me the place smokes its own briskets and pork and makes all the salad dressings. I think he was being modest because everything I tasted was from scratch.

An interesting chalkboard list of side dishes included roasted Brussels sprouts loaded with bacon in a portion so generous I could have stopped there. But I also got the 1814 sandwich, a pile of crisp pastrami, brisket, melted provolone, coleslaw and “magic mustard” on a pretzel bun. I took most of it home, and my husband and I split the leftovers for supper (truth in advertising: he also had turkey soup and later, ramen).

My friend had creamy mushroom soup and cubed roast sweet potatoes with bacon. There’s a breakfast menu (I want to try the black bean cakes with pico de gallo, egg and sour cream. I will definitely get the optional pork green chili). The lunch/dinner menu includes a lot of entree salads that can be turned into wraps, and many fabulous-sounding sandwiches.

The atmosphere tends more toward hip but comfy coffee house than family restaurant, which is the flavor of Alexandris around the corner. That restaurant is one of Tony’s favorites and the reason I haven’t visited Sonnets until now. The next time we dine in Wadsworth, it may be in separate restaurants.

For more info, go to sonnetscoffee.com.

THE MAILBAG

From Cindy W.:
Perfect timing on the new cookie glaze, as my holiday baking frenzy is about to begin. But…is it “2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted”, or “2 1/4 sifted cups confectioners’ sugar”?

And while I’m writing, I think you may have experienced something like my newest kitchen issue and have some idea of what to do about it. Several of my “pretty” cookbooks were displayed on a shelf above my gas stove for eons and rarely used. I’ve brought them to Florida to display and actually use, but they’ve collected the typical coating of kitchen grease and dust. Cleaning the dust jackets is easy, but how do I clean the page edges without damaging them? Your suggestions would be very much appreciated!

Dear Cindy:
The recipe as written is measure, then sift. Many recipe writers don’t know the difference between putting “sifted” before or after the ingredient so I don’t trust them when it is written “flour, sifted.” But I am 99% sure King Arthur does. So in this case, measure the confectioners’ sugar and then sift.

I can’t answer your book-cleaning question. My books are far from the stove so I don’t have that problem. The wall clock, chef photos of Tony, writing mementos …. all coated with grease and cleaned periodically. But not books. Can anyone help Cindy?

From Martha:
Guinness and chocolate is a long-standing pairing. Although adding ginger is pretty fantastic, too. Here’s a delicious recipe I made for my family:
Chocolate Guinness cake
https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1875-chocolate-guinness-cake

Guinness makes great BBQ sauce too:
https://www.theblackpeppercorn.com/2012/03/guinness-bbq-sauce/.

Dear Martha:
I think you should make that cake for me sometime. Maybe we can have a cake fest with Guinness to wash it all down.

From Julie B.:
I have another chef you would love to follow. His name is Pasquale Sciarappa and he posts videos on facebook all the time. His Italian recipes are very similar to the ones from my grandma and he is a lot of fun to watch.

I hope you have a great holiday!

Dear Julie:
Thanks! Always room on my watch list for someone with a sense of humor.

From Molly C.:
I’ve frequented Stan’s Bakery a time or two as it is in my neck of the woods. I love walking in there as smells exactly as a bakery should. In addition to their sweet treats, they offer homemade pierogis. I’ve ordered custom-decorated cookies on separate occasions, and have always been so pleased. Leslie is a true artist.

You can subscribe to Stan’s Bakery online to stay up to date on what is available. They have a Facebook page too.

I will be rooting for Leslie to win when I watch her compete on the Food Network!

Dear Molly:
You are lucky — or is it cursed? — to live close to a great bakery. Thanks for writing.

From Mary D.:
My curiosity is piqued! I googled “Knock you Naked cookies” assuming it’s a bakery in the Akron area. The search returned various “Knock you Naked” recipes — from brownies to bars to party punch. I searched “what is knock you naked” but couldn’t find the origin, just recipes. What is the craze and where did it start?

Dear Mary:
Let’s catch others up on your reference. It is to my item a few weeks ago about the variety of dishes I judged at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Men Who Cook fund-raiser. Since this is cookie week, I’ll print the recipe for Larry Crocket’s entry. I have no idea where the trend started and my guess is we will never know. Remember Better Than Sex Cake? Same thing.

KNOCK YOU NAKED BARS
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Caramel Sauce:
5 oz. evaporated milk
1 bag (14 oz.) caramels
1/2 cup peanut butter

For the bars: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In a large mixer bowl, beat butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla with a mixer until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spread half of dough in the prepared pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

While the dough bakes, melt caramels with evaporated milk in a double boiler. Add peanut butter after caramels are melted. Melt thoroughly and stir well. Spread over baked cookie dough base.

Drop remaining cookie dough by spoonfuls on top of the caramel mixture. Return to oven and bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

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