Heading out to a friend’s house and need a hostess gift? Is that friend someone who makes you feel like your own cooking skills are limited to opening a jar of peanut butter? You CAN make something edible that they’ll love, and you CAN do it with minimal skill. (Purists may object to using frozen puff pastry. They can make their own. I do it when it really matters, but for this the frozen kind is a useful stand-in.)
Cinnamon Nut Ears
Here’s what you need to make about four to five dozen cookies. Enough for a generous looking pile on a plate. If you need fewer, use only half the box of pastry, half the sugar and cinnamon, and half the nuts. Although you’ll end up using only a bit for brushing, you’ll still need to crack one whole egg, as at last report chickens have not yet learned to lay halves. (Note that precision on the ingredients here doesn’t matter much, so don’t worry if you’re not spot on.)
One box of frozen puff pastry from the supermarket’s frozen desserts aisle.
1/2 cup of sugar, plus a bit more set aside for sprinkling
About 1 cup of shelled nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds – it doesn’t matter), chopped up fine.
One egg, cracked in a little bowl and beaten
About 3 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
At least one cookie sheet or flat pan. Two if you’ve got them.
Baking parchment (looks like waxed paper, but is meant to go in the oven. Supermarkets carry it.) If you can’t find any DON’T use waxed paper, instead smear the cookie sheet with butter or shortening.
A rolling pin, large dowel stick, or cylindrical glass.
Medium size mixing bowl
A knife, preferably serated.
A flipper or spatula to turn the cookies over
A rack or heat-proof surface on which to cool the cookies
1. Take the box of pastry out of the freezer about a half-hour before you begin.
2. Turn on your oven to 400-deg F.
3. Make a spotlessly clean, large clear spot on a countertop or very large cutting board.
4. Sprinkle some sugar on your clean spot.
5. Take the first puff pastry sheet out of the box (there will be two, packaged together). Gently ease it open and flat. Try to keep it from cracking along the folds. Sprinkle some more sugar on top.
6. Roll it out until it’s about 1/8 inch thick. Try to keep it roughly rectangular and untorn.
7. Take a bowl and mix together the nuts, a half cup of sugar, and the cinnamon.
8. Paint the dough rectangle with the egg.
9. The bowl of cinnamon/sugar/nut stuff is enough for both puff pastry sheets, so figure on using only half of it in total for this first sheet. Keeping this in mind, liberally sprinkle your dough with about half of the amount you’re contemplating using on sheet #1.
10. Fold the bottom edge of the dough up to the center line. Fold the top edge of the dough down to the center line.
11. Sprinkle about 2/3 of the nut/sugar mix you’re reserving for this dough sheet on the resulting long thin folded dough blob.
12. Repeat step #10 to make an even narrower log.
13. Sprinkle the remainder of the nut/sugar mix across the top of the log.
14. Fold the log in half and pat it a bit so it stays in a log shape.
15. Using sawing motions instead of squishing motions, cut the log into slices roughly 1/4 inch thick.
16. Put a some parchment paper on the cookie sheet and place the slices on it. (If you don’t have parchment, grease your baking sheet by rubbing butter or shortening on it, then put the cookies directly on the pan.
17. Bake the first sheet of cookies in the 400 degree oven for about 4 minutes. At the end of 4 minutes flip the cookies over and bake them for another 4 to 5 minutes. At the end of that they should be lightly golden and stiff. They may still look a little bit soggy, but they’ll crisp up provided they’ve lost that translucent, doughy look.
18. Slide the whole sheet of parchment to a rack or heat-proof surface to cool. (This is one reason to use the parchment, otherwise you need to pick up the cookies one by one to put them on the rack to cool, plus the baking sheet will need to be washed before you put batch #2 on it).
19. After the cookies are cool, you can sprinkle them with confectioners sugar (highly optional) then put them in a box or tin, or cover them with plastic wrap.
See where one’s missing from the photo?? That’s the odd shaped one from the very end of the roll. That’s the taste test portion reserved for the cook. (It served its function.)
A savory as opposed to sweet cousin of this is to do pretty much the same thing, but dust the board with flour, but instead of stuffing the dough log with cinnamon and nuts to use lots of grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese (or a mix). A sprinkling of some type of herb or garlic is good, too (but optional). I like to serve this unsweet cheesy type of toast with soup and a salad.