Mona Talbott’s Biscotti Lucia

from Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome, p. 45.

Who doesn’t like cookies? My sister, for one, but practically everyone else does. They make a wonderful gift to bring to a party instead of or in addition to a bottle of wine. The friends at the monthly circulating cocktail party I belong to enjoyed these Italian almond cookies. Several people tried to pocket a few to take home at the end of the evening. A good sign.

My favorite cookie book is Martha Stewart’s. But, in this case, if the rest of the collection turns out as well as this first attempt, then Mona Talbott’s Biscotti is going to run a close second, a tie with Carol Field’s Italian cookies. Talbott’s recipes hint at how underrated Italian cookies are. My own impression, at any rate, had been that they tend to be bland. And in all the  years I visited Italy I ate nothing that dissuaded me of that impression. Good bakers are hard to find in Italy. Yet, when you find them, good Italian cookies are satisfying in a minimalist way.

I doubled the recipe proportions, because 1 1/2 egg whites seems a bit too fussy and I knew I’d find enough people to eat a double batch. So, the amounts below represent double proportions.

I have a couple of suggestions to supplement the simple and clear instructions…

For about 50 cookies

500g / 18 0z blanched almonds

400g / 2 cups granulated sugar

6 g / 2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 g / 1 tsp lemon zest

3 egg whites, lightly beaten

50 or a few more whole blanched almonds

Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F.

Pulse the almonds and sugar in a food processor until the almonds are chopped medium fine.

Shadowcook: It’s okay if there are big bits of nuts. The pulsing took longer than I expected.

Transfer the nut-sugar mixture to a medium-size mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon and lemon zest and mix well. Gently fold in the lightly beaten egg whites until well incorporated.

Shadowcook: I put the egg whites in the Kitchenaid mixer with the whisk attachment. I turned the mixer on to medium and whisked the whites until they were frothy but not solid white, about 1 minute.

Roll the dough into 28 small balls (18 g / 3/4 oz) and top each cookie with a blanced almond.

Shadowcook: Rolling the balls is a lot easier if your hands are wet.

Transfer the cookies to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing them 2 cm / 3/4 inch apart.

Bake for 10 minutes. the cookies will be light in color and will form a nice crust as they cool.

Shadowcook: Be prepared to leave them in a oven longer than 10 minutes. You won’t be able to tell if the cookies are done cooking by touching them. If you want to be sure that you cook them the proper amount of time for them to finish cooking, try baking one ball on its own for 10-15 mins. My oven’s temperature is such that I wound up baking the cookies for 15 minutes.

And it’s true that cooling cookies on a rack is where the crust forms. Cooling is almost as important a step as baking in bringing a cookie to perfection.

These cookies will keep for up to 2 weeks in a sealed container.

Martha Stewart’s Earl Grey Tea Cookies

dsc00093from Martha Stewart’s Cookies, p. 231.

The feeling that I was getting stuck in a chocolate rut, I decided to try Martha’s Earl Grey Tea Cookies, after my friend Jonathan made a batch that pleased him so much that he took the artful photo you see above. The batch I made had tremendous potential. I really loved the delicate flavor. My tasting crew in my department seemed to enjoy them as well. But the balance of flavors in this cookie is crucial. Furthermore, it’s not the most clearly set-forth recipe I’ve ever read.

Here’s what I mean…

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons finely ground Earl Grey tea leaves (from about 4 bags)

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

1. Whisk together flour, tea, and salt in a bowl.

2. Put butter, confectioners’ sugar, and orange zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture until just combined.

3. Divide in half. Transfer each half to a piece of parchment paper; shape into logs. Roll in parchment to 1 1/4 inches in diameter, pressing a ruler along edge of parchment at each turn to narrow the log and force out air. Transfer in parchment to paper towel tubes; freeze until firm, 1 hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment.

5. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days.

What the….?

Frankly, Martha lost me a little at step 3. And then she had me thoroughly annoyed when I reached the moment where I needed to have on hand paper towel tubes — as in more than one. Not, mind you, that I had even one.

To begin, however, at the beginning, I bought a box of organic Earl Grey tea in bags at my local co-op. I believe it’s worth finding the right Earl Grey tea for this cookie. Some teas don’t contain enough bergamot, as this one did not. I know there is a particular British brand of Early Grey available in the States, but I can’t remember its name.

Next, the balance required in this cookie to make it sing is between the tea, on the one hand, and the orange zest, on the other. Just a few flecks more or less of zest disturb the complementarity of the flavors. When I make this cookie again, I’m going to err on the side of less zest — perhaps a scant tablespoon would be the best way to describe the amount.

I used Maldon sea salt. I’m not sure why this was called for. I ate just a few of the cookies. I felt the crunch and tasted the slight charge of a small chunk of salt in one cookie and nothing in the other. Next time, I will substitute kosher salt.

As for the beating of the butter, sugar, and zest, it pays to follow the directions regarding time. I noticed a difference in the creamed butter at 1 min and 2 1/32 mins. The longer you cream it, the fluffier it will be.

I confess I ignored those useless directions to roll the dough in parchment. Oh, I rolled it up into a log all right in parchment. But the ruler? Didn’t understand that. I squeezed the dough tightly. I’ll have to figure out how to squeeze out the air some way. You’ll see in the photo that one or two of the cookies Jonathan made have airholes.

After rolling the dough into logs that were smaller in diameter than 1 1/2 inches, I put the parchment-wrapped logs in the freezer. After an hour, I removed and cut off half of a log and put the rest back in the freezer for another time.  Slice and bake.

Very tasty cookies. I intend to have some with tea one of these rainy days this week. The essence of Earl Grey is subtle. The texture of the cookie resembles shortbread. It has a nice crumble to it. Tomorrow, I’ll have tea around 4 pm, shortly before I leave to leave for dinner and then the opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

Carol Fields: Ossi da Mordere (Italian macarons)

dsc04238

from The Italian Baker, p. 420.

My friend Sherry, cookie maestra, swears by this book. Now that I’ve tasted several of the recipes from it, I’m amazed that I hadn’t heard of it. After all, it was published in 1985 and, as far as I can tell, it has not been reissued. I first had these cookies a week ago. They are addictive, if you like a little something to finish off a glass of red wine after dinner. I made them for the first time today. How easy!

By the way, I believe ‘ossi da mordere’ has the meaning of ‘bones to gnaw on.’  But I could be wrong.

How simple can you get?

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

3/4 cup plus 2 Tblsp (100 grams) blanched almonds

1 1/3 cups (200 grams) confectioner’s sugar

Scant 1/4 cup (20 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process

3 to 3 1/2 Tbsp egg whites

1 Tbsp milk

Grind the almonds to a coarse powder in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar and cocoa and process to a fine powder. Add 3 tablespoons egg whites and process to a stiff, solid paste. Add the additional egg white if necessary.

Shaping. Pinch off pieces of dough the size of a fat cherry and roll between your hands into balls. Place 2 inches apart on buttered or parchment-lined baking sheets. Lightly brush the tops with milk.

Baking. Heat the oven to 325 F. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes. At first the cookies will flatten and look like nothing at all, but, given a few more minutes, each of these little cookies will puff up and their tops will become cracked and shiny. Cool on racks.

My reactions…

Ingredients are all. When I next make them, first of all, I’m going to make sure to have blanched almonds. I used unskinned almonds and I’m sure the cookies suffered a bit for it. I used Dagoba’s cocoa powder. Next time, I’ll try it with Valrhona’s. Perhaps the chocolate will be richer and slightly earthier.

I didn’t use more than 3 Tbsp of egg whites. Next time, I’ll try the entire 3 1/2 tablespoons to see what the difference is.

Brushing with milk is aesthetic, meaning necessary. The three that I forgot to brush turned out dull and drab.

And once again I am reminded how much most cookies benefit from cooling on the tray on which they’re baked placed  on the rack. Their exteriors are crisper as a result.

It took less than 10 minutes to pull the dough together.

Last thoughts…

Wonderful.

Update, Feb 16: In response to a couple of questions:

  • to measure the rather awkward requirement of 3 1/2 Tblsp of egg white, I used an Oxo 1/4 cup-4 Tblsp measuring cup. 2 large eggs are plenty. See next point.
  • The wetter the dough, the flatter the cookie. That’s fine. But to achieve something like a French macaron (puffed up, in other words) use less than 3 1/2 Tblsp of egg whites. A stiff dough rises more, it seems.
  • If I can get a consistent rise out of these cookies, I’m going to experiment with creating a cream to spread between two of them, like a French macaron. I think I’ll have to make sure the almonds are ground really, really fine.