Cookies


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.

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.

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.

dsc04136from Bakewise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking, p. 375-76.

Deep. How many baking books can you characterize as deep? Shirley Corriher’s new book on baking aims to infuse home cooks with the principles of baking. It’s a heady transfusion. I sat reading the book for a couple of hours on the first day I had it. The good number of recipes I’d like to try encouraged me. The complexity and ramshackle organization of the great body of knowledge stored in it intimidated me. Wasn’t Scribner once known for its great editors? Or was that only for the likes of Thomas Wolfe?

Nevertheless, I found many elements of the format pleasing. For instance, each recipe begins with a little introduction, which is followed by a box, “What This Recipe Shows,” filled with the key chemical or constituent advantages demonstrated in that particular recipe. A beginner can learn immediately. A more experienced cook will learn the rationale or the science informing many of the techniques she or he has learned haphazardly over time. Anyone who really has a desire to understand the math behind the synthesis of flour, sugar, fats, and eggs can do so here. For the rest of us, who would prefer to let Shirley and the likes of Harold McGee handle that side of cooking, we can get on with baking in blissful ignorance.

I’m glad I read around in the book before I settled on making something seemingly simple like these cookies. I wouldn’t have known, for instance, that King Arthur’s unbleached all-purpose flour, which I happen to have in my flour bins, is high-protein — something I learned only in the introduction to the cookie section — and so preferable for cookies but not for cakes.If ever there was a cookbook designed for this blog, Bakewise is it. It needs someone to sort it out in order to get the full flavor of it. I suspect this book will turn out to be one of the best investments I’ve made in a cookbook purchase. But it’s not for daytrippers.

Let’s get started:

What This Recipe Shows:

  • Roasted pecans ground to a coarse meal help thicken this dough and add great flavor.
  • The baking soda is excessive and overleavens, but it does aid in making a slightly darker cookie.
  • In order to make the dough thick enough to shape into rolls that can be chilled and then sliced, I reduced the eggs from 2 to 1. [My note: but she didn’t; must be a typo]

3 cups (10.5 oz/297 g) pecans

1 cup plus 2 Tblsp (9 oz/2.55 g), unsalted butter, divided

1 tsp (6 g) salt, divided

2 1/4 cups (10 oz/287 g) spooned and leveled unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp (5 g) baking soda

1 1/2 cups (10.5 oz/ 298 g) sugar

1 tsp (5 ml) unsulfured molasses

1 Tbsp (1.5 ml) pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs (3.5 oz/99 g)

2 cups (12 oz/340 g) semisweet chocolate chips

Nonstick cooking spray, optional

1. Arrange a shelf in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F/177 C.

2. Spread out the pecans on a baking sheet and roast until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. While they are hot, toss the nuts with 2 Tbsp of the butter (1 oz/ 28 g) and 1/4 tsp (1.5 g) salt.

3. When the nuts have cooled, place 1 1/2 cups (5.25 oz/149 g) of the pecans in a food processor with the steel blade and process with quick on/offs until very finely chopped to a coarse meal. The nuts will chop unevenly, so do not try to get every nut finely chopped, but watch the overall batch carefully — do not go to pecan butter.

4. In a bowl, best together the pecan meal, flour, baking soda, and the remaining 3/4 tsp (4.5 g) salt. Set aside.

5. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the remaining 1 cup butter (8 oz/226 g) with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses and vanilla. On the lowest speed, beat in the eggs. Beat in the flour-pecan meal mixture in several batches.

6. Coarsely chop the remaning 1 1/2 cups (5.25 oz/ 149 g) pecans. Stir the pecans and chocolate chips into the dough. Work in with your hands, if necessary. Shape into several logs about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) in diameter, wrap plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 36 hours if desired.

7. Turn up the oven to 375 F/191 C. Line a baking sheet with Release foil, nonstick side up, or parchment sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Slice the dough into 1/2-inch (1.3 cm) slices. Keep unbaked dough refrigerated. Place on the baking sheet about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. Bake until the edges just begin to color, 9 to 11 minutes.

Now, my turn…

I have to say I ignored the bits about Release foil and nonstick spray. The cookies came off the parchment paper without a problem. Second, on the page before this recipe (p. 374), she mentions at the end of her story about the origin of chocolate chip cookies that one master baker in NYC refrigerates his cookie dough for 36 hours to achieve a “drier, firmer dough.” She notes, too, that “Flavorwise, standing time is a gold mine, allowing the doughs’ flavors to meld.” So, now like the Slow-Rise Bread, we’ve entered the age of the Slow-Meld Cookie.

I have no idea why she calls for unsulfured molasses — one of the few things she doesn’t explain — but it turns out most molasses are unsulfured, I think.

When she says to let the nuts cool, pay attention. Grinding hot nuts brings out moisture and so renders them into a paste. Cooled nuts grind to a coarse meal.

I found the dough too chunky to slice easily. So, I left the dough in the bowl and refrigerated that. When the time came to bake, I scooped out a heaping tablespoon of dough, rolled it with the palm of my hand into a ball, and then partially flattened it.

The next time I make these cookies:

As happy as I was with how they turned out — buttery, crisp around the edges, and chewy in the center, next time I won’t flatten them as much as I did. I want a cookie with a smaller diameter that’s thicker and chewier. But it’s an excellent cookie.

dsc04047from Martha Stewart’s Cookies, p. 68.

First, biscotti, now cookies. Sherry has inspired me to keep moving in a bakerly direction. I have learned from her that cookie-making is an art, not side-line to serious cooking. For instance, she maintains that no people understand cookies as well as the Italians. Perhaps when I post this, she’ll add a comment to explain what she means.

In the meantime, about a week ago, she brought over a few chocolate cookies with snow-capped surfaces that I went wild over. I am beginning to understand how satisfying a good cookie can be. They’re small, discrete, and, ideally, well-balanced between sweetness, moisture, and texture.

Among her favorite cookie books, Martha Stewart’s new book on the subject holds a very prominent place. It is easy to sneer at Martha Stewart — at least I used to find it easy. But now that I’ve tried a number of recipes from her books, she has earned my respect. I’ve skimmed through the new book of Martha Stewart’s Living recipes (seen at Costco in this season) and noticed quite a few recipes I’d like to try, including a number of interesting biscotti recipes. Her compendium of hors-d’oeuvres is very useful. I don’t often use it, but I’d never get rid of it. In fact, she has a recipe for a savory biscotti (browned-butter, lemon and capers) that I will attempt soon.

Here is her recipe for a beautiful lush, snowy, chewy chocolate cookie:

8 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp coarse salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/3 cup whole milk

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring. Set aside and let cool. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

2. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla, and then the melted chocolate. Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk. Divide dough into four equal pieces. Wrap each in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 350. Divide each piece into sixteen 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar to coat, then in confectioner’s sugar to coat. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

4. Bake until surfaces crack, about 14 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

When I made it…

First, only Valrhona chocolate will do. I used Dagoba’s cocoa powder. None of the cocoa powders I saw in my favorite fancy-shmancy market identified themselves as “Dutch process,” so I had to let that go.

I set a clear Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of water to melt the chocolate and then set it aside.

A hand-held electric mixer might work in a pinch, but this recipe really requires the heft and endurance of a counter-top electric mixer. However, the butter and brown sugar never got pale and fluffy. So, I let that go as well and forged on.

Dividing the flour into two additions allows for the smooth intergration of the dry ingredients. I found I had to stop the mixer a few times to scrap down the sides, because too much was adhering high up the side of the bowl.

Because of all the bread and biscotti I’ve been making, I was expecting a much more solid “dough” than what the recipe produced. The consistency resembled very thick frosting. It certainly was wetter than I expected, so I wasn’t sure how to divide the dough into four portions. So, instead, I transferred the entirety to a bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge.

The first rolling in granulated sugar is easy. The trick to the second in confectioner’s sugar is to make sure the sugar sticks to the balls at least in patches all over the surface of the ball.

The baking time was perfect. The cooling on the rack is what makes the surface of the cookie a touch crisp and the inside continue to be chewy.

If you prefer to keep some on hand, Sherry says they freeze well.

Next time I make these cookies…

I am going to confront the wet dough and divide it into four. It will make for uniform sizes better than I managed by eyeballing the amount between my fingers.

from The Zuni Café Cookbook, pp. 478-79.

Whether eaten with coffee at breakfast or wine after a meal, freshly-made biscotti seem like a luxury. Recently, a friend gave me some biscotti she made and I’ve been enjoying them with my coffee and hard-boiled egg that I have most mornings. I got the idea of making my own biscotti to have them on hand, as one more little luxury I treat myself to as a live-alone Solitaire.

Now that I’ve tried two recipes, they strike me more than ever like a luxury because they’re trickier to bake than I expected. Either they are too soft or they are too hard. It takes practice to know how biscotti are supposed to feel and look as dough, at the end of the first baking, and at the end of the second. In the photo above, there are two kinds. The first recipe I tried was the Gourmet Cookbook’s Dried Cranberries and Pistachio Biscotti. The second is the one I’m presenting here. As scrumptious as these biscotti turned out to be, this recipe contains a number of pitfalls and one important omission. But first things first.

Let’s see what Judy says:

For about 24 large or 36 two-bite-sized biscotti:

3/4 cup hazelnuts or almonds (4 1/2 oz)

4 Tbl cold salted butter

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbls sugar

1 large cold egg

1 1/2 tsp anisette

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (about 5 1/2 oz)

2 Tbl fine cornmeal

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp anise seeds

Preheat oven to 325. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roast the nuts on a small baking sheet until they are fragrant and beginning to color on the inside, about 15 minutes. If using hazelnuts, gather them in a towel, beanbag-style, rub to remove some of the papery skin, and then pick out the nuts. Finely chop 1/4 cup of the nuts; coarsely chop the remainder.

In a medium bowl, barely cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in the egg and anisette.

In a separate bowl, combine the nuts, flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and anise seeds. Add to the butter mixture and mix until homogenous.

Divide the dough in half. Roll the dough into logs about 1 inch in diameter. The dough should be cold enough to handle without difficulty, though you may need to dust the counter with a little additional flour if the logs start to stick.

Place the logs on the baking sheet, spacing them at least a few inches apart; they will swell considerably. Bake until slightly brown and firm on the surface, but yielding to light pressure, about 15 to 20 minutes. Rotate the pan if they are browning unevenly. Don’t underbake, or the baking powder will not complete its job, and the cookies will be hard and dense rather than crisp and with a great coarse texture.

Transfer the cookie logs to a cutting board and slice on an angle about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Place cut side down on the warm baking sheet and bake for another 5 minutes or so to brown lightly. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Variation: Substitute very coarsely chopped raw pistachios for the almonds and grappa for the anisette.

When I made this recipe…

I owe a lot of these tips to Sherry, who steered me through the shoals of baking biscotti.

The most important points to bear in mind are:

  • Flatten the log of dough a little. It’s strange that Judy doesn’t mention that. Flattening it gives biscotti their distinctive crescent shape when you slice the log of dough after the first baking.
  • The crispness of the biscotti depends on baking the logs completely — not too soon and not too long. Rodgers says the log of dough ought to be firm with a slight spring-back. That direction did not correspond to what I saw and felt. Throughout the first baking, the log felt spongy. I took it out of the oven when the log expanded to the point where cracks began to appear along the top. It still felt soft.
  • My baking times differed by much from Sherry’s cooking times. I had to bake the biscotti about 10 mins longer than the recipe called for. Just keep your eye and fingertip on it. You’ll have to judge for yourself.
  • Don’t overdo the second baking. That’s when biscotti can become teeth-breakers. They should be barely golden toasty.
  • After the first baking, let it cool 10-15 mins before you slice up the log for the second baking.
  • Use a serrated knife and run it under the tap each time before you slice. Hold on to the baked log and very carefully slice through.
  • Remember that the biscotti will harden for a while as they cool both after the first baking and after the second.

Regarding ingredients, Sherry recommends Trader Joe’s unsalted roasted almonds. That saves a step.

I left out the anisette, but used the fennel (anise) seeds and the flavor came through.

Salted butter is important. The biscotti will be bland otherwise.

I used an Kitchen-Aid upright mixer with the paddle attachment to mix the batter. This batter was drier than the one I made according to the Gourmet Cookbook recipe.

The smaller the biscotti, the easier they are to bake. For the first batch I made, I made logs that resulted in biscotti about 3 to 4 inches long. They required a longer initial bake and still never hardened sufficiently. Judy’s recommendation of 1-inch diamater was too small.

When I make this recipe again…

If you look closely at the photo, the first Gourmet Cookbook biscotti did not bake long enough in the first baking. Hence, you can see they look a little chewy cookie-like. Baking times in my oven will be what I watch for most carefully.