Category Archives: cookie

Amigthalota (Flourless Almond Cookies)

I found it difficult not to pick them up by the stems as if they were real pears, resulting in several sad almond pears on the ground. But of course, I ate them anyway.

I have a bunch of almond flour in my cupboard leftover from my last flirtation with low-carb eating.* So this recipe published recently in the Miami Herald caught my attention. Just five ingredients—almond flour, powdered sugar, lemon zest, egg whites, and almond extract. Decorative clove “stems” optional.

like pears in the snow, which makes no sense, but is kind of pretty anyway They’re similar to marzipan, but not as sweet. Only 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar in the recipe goes into the cookies, and even a generous coating will only use another 1/2 cup, so most of the 2 1/2 cups called for is just for storing them. I’m not totally sure what the point of that is. I guess it might prevent them from absorbing moisture, although an air-tight container would probably suffice, especially if you eat them quickly.

The powdered sugar might detract a little bit from the pear resemblance, but it covers the cracks that appear during baking and I’m not sure they’d be quite sweet enough for me without it. If you generally like your sweets sweeter, you might want to double the amount of sugar in the dough. If that makes it too dry to work with, just add a little water. I suspect you could probably replace the egg whites with water if you wanted to make them vegan. There are other recipes that call for orange flower water and no eggs. I imagine you could use cinnamon and a dash of cayenne in place of the lemon zest for a spiced version.

But I’m also pretty pleased with what you get by following recipe as written—crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, not overly sweet, and kind of adorable.

before baking after baking

*In the short term, low-carb diets tend to perform better for both weight loss and health indicators like blood lipids than low-fat or calorie-restriction diets, but in most long-term controlled studies low-carb doesn’t do much (if any) better. As with most diet research, it’s hard to tell if the long-term failure is because most people stop following the diet or if weight regain happens even when people stick to the diet. If the former, it’s unclear if that’s primarily a psychological issue (will-power is a limited resource) or if there are physiological reasons (e.g. decreased leptin levels depress metabolism and increase appetite). Or both. Anyhow, I’m not interested in losing weight (or it might be more accurate to say I am interested in not being interested in losing weight), but many low carb adherents also claim to experience improved well-being, mental clarity, etc. so I was sufficiently intrigued to try it few times. Mostly it seems to make me slightly lethargic and depressed, so I never last longer than a couple of months.

Recipe: Amigthalota (Flourless Almond Cookies)
from the Miami Herald, who adapted it from The Complete Middle East Cookbook by Tess Mallos (Tuttle, original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, so I probably used more; can reduce or eliminate if desired1999)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups ground almonds
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (only about 1 cup really necessary)
  • 2 egg whites
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 drops almond extract
  • 25-30 whole cloves (optional)

Method:

1. Whisk together the ground almonds and 1/2 cup sugar. Beat the egg whites until slightly frothy and stir them into the almond-sugar mixture. Add the lemon zest and almond extract and stir until it forms a firm dough.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly coat your hands with oil or butter, pinch off walnut-sized pieces of dough and roll them between your palms to form smooth balls. Or, if desired, mold into a pear shape and stick a clove in the top.

3. Bake about 20 minutes, until set and lightly browned. If they look like they’re browning too quickly, cover them with another sheet of parchment paper.

4. While still warm, dip or roll the cookies in some of the remaining powered sugar and then let cool. Store in an airtight container, sprinkled with the rest of the powdered sugar (probably optional).

although pears seem to be traditional, I'm sure other shapes would also work; it's not quite as malleable as marzipan, but almost.

Holy Crap, it’s Christmas! Cookies Part II: Soft Molasses Cookies

warm spiced cookies + a $5 bottle of blanc de blancs (thanks trader joe!) = enough holiday spirit to finally get around to decorating the tree

The Lovechild of a Gingerbread Man and a Snickerdoodle

Most of my Christmas standards are things I make because other people like them or because they’re my grandma’s recipes. In some ways, isn’t Christmas really all about grandmas? These are the one exception. They’re the cookies I make because I like them.

you could use cinnamon sugar if you want, but there's plenty of cinnamon in the dough and with the molasses making the dough darker, I'm not sure it would have much of a visual effectTexturally, they’re almost identical to snickerdoodles—they have the same ratio of butter : sugar : flour :  eggs and they’re also rolled in sugar before baking, so the outside gets crackly and has a little crunch. But flavor-wise, they’re all gingerbread: molasses and cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger and cloves. You can imagine how they smell as they bake.

The best part about these cookies is that if you don’t over-bake them, they turn out amazingly soft. And they stay that way even after they cool, even if you don’t store them in a perfectly airtight container, even if you want to make them a week before Christmas and savor them until New Year’s Day. I think it must be because of the little bit of oil in the dough. It does make them a little more prone to falling apart, but I think that’s a small price to pay for enduring just-out-of-the-oven softness.

If you like the kind of gingerbread that bites back, you might want to double all the spices. I think they’re  perfect as is: as much butter as you can possibly get into a cookie without it melting into a puddle of goo (which they occasionally do anyway, as you can see at approximately 3 o’clock in the picture above), just enough molasses and spices to be festive without getting too overbearing, and a little sparkle from the sugary coating. They’re also the easiest part of this year’s pared-down cookie assortment.

I don't know why they look so much darker here than above. Same cookies, I swear. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Recipe: Soft Molasses Cookies (from JoyofBaking.com)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flourI would not use blackstrap molasses. Also, whatever kind of measuring device you use, spray it with non-stick cooking spray first and you'll save yourself a lot of fuss.
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon regular)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons neutral cooking oil (I used peanut)
  • 1/3 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup white sugar (for rolling)

Method:

1. Whisk the dry ingredients together (flour, soda, salt, & spices).

2. Cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes with a stand or hand mixer, 5-10 minutes arm power).

3. Add the oil, molasses, egg, and vanilla to the butter mixture and beat until fully incorporated.

4. Add the flour mixture and stir just until fully incorporated.butter and brown sugar, beaten until light and fluffy

5. Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to a week.

6. Preheat the oven to 375 and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

7. Put the white sugar in a bowl. Shape the cookies by pinching off pieces of dough about the size of a walnut, rolling them between your palms until they form smooth balls, and coating them in the sugar.

8. Using something with a flat bottom, like a drinking glass, flatten the balls slightly.

squish. also, this glass wants scotch.

9. Bake for 9-10 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are crinkled but barely dry. They will look a little underdone.

10. Let them cool on the pans for about 10 minutes and then remove them to a cooling rack or paper towels to cool completely. Store any that don’t get eaten immediately in an airtight container.

Dulce de Leche Macarons, Defense Catering Part II

If cupcakes were typically glazed with dulce de leche instead of piled high with too-sweet buttercream, I might feel differently about them.

According Bon Apetit, NPR, Salon, and The New York Post, macarons are “the new cupcake.” I, for one, welcome our new, smaller, less frosting-dominated confectionery overlords.

Unlike the American macaroon, usually composed mostly of shredded coconut, the French macaron is a little sandwich cookie made from two airy disks of sweetened almond meal and beaten egg whites stuck together with buttercream or jam. The meringue-like shells usually aren’t flavored, although they are often tinted to match the filling. Traditional filling flavors include vanilla, chocolate, raspberry, and  pistachio. I decided to fill mine with dulce de leche, which I prefer to even the most delicious cooked buttercream. Dulce de leche is basically the apotheosis of the Maillard reaction—milk cooked down with sugar until it forms a thick, sticky caramel. You can start with fresh milk if you prefer, but most people just use sweetened condensed milk.

I baked the dulce du leche in a water bath this time; in the past, I've used the dangerous boiling-a-whole-can method. Both detailed below.

If you cover the dish, you won't have to pull off the burned layer...if you forget, like I did, don't throw it away. That part is almost more delicious than the regular stuff. 

I used a recipe from Tartelette, which appeared to be studded with some kind of caramelized sugar. That turned out to be a praline. However, it wasn’t clear from the recipe when the almonds were supposed to be added to the sugar or in what form (whole? chopped? all it said was “not blanched”). For my first attempt, I added whole almonds to the praline, but once I chopped it up in a food processor as instructed, it just looked like regular chopped up almonds, not at all like Tartelette’s pictures. So I made a second hard caramel without the almonds. That looked right…but then, in the oven, the bits sprinkled on the macaron shells melted and made half of the shells collapse.

I later discovered a much more thorough write-up on all things macaron at Not So Humble Pie. In the future, I’ll use that recipe and skip sprinkling the shells with anything.

The shells, before baking. As they bake, the meringue rises up and forms the little ruffled "feet"

Anyhow, despite being half-collapsed, they were pretty delicious, although they are intensely sweet. You can make them significantly in advance of serving—the quality doesn’t begin to degrade noticeably for at least a few days. We’re still enjoying the leftovers, a full week after the defense. Also, any leftover dulce de leche is incredible on ice cream, pancakes, apple slices, or just licked off a spoon.

Recipe: Dulce de Leche Macarons (adapted from Tartelette)

For the praline sprinkle (if using):Whenever I'm blending powdered sugar, I cover the food processor bowl with plastic wrap so it doesn't billow out like smoke and coat the kitchen in stickyness

  • 2/3 cup sugar

For the dulce du leche:

  • 1 can sweetened condense milk
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 1/4 t. vanilla bean paste)

For the macaron shells:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 50 g. granulated sugar
  • 200 g. powdered sugar
  • 110 g. almond meal

1. Place the sugar in a dry saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar melts and begins to caramelize. Cook to a light amber, and then spread on an oiled baking sheet. Let cool for about 10 minutes, and then break into pieces and whiz to a fine powder in a blender or food processor.

dry caramel cooking shards of praline in the food processor

2. If you feel like living dangerously, simply cover the unopened can of sweetened condensed milk with water and boil for 3-4 hours. Make sure to check the water level frequently—if the can gets too hot, it may explode. If there’s any air trapped in the can and it expands, it’ll explode anyway. Assuming no explosions happen, let the can cool, open it, and whisk in the salt and vanilla bean seeds.

Alternatively: poke 2 holes in one side of the can and place it in a pot with water up to 1” from the top of the can and simmer for about 2 hrs, adding water periodically to keep the can at least half-submerged. A washcloth placed under the can will keep it from rattling. Ditto with the whisking salt and vanilla bean in after it’s cool.

Or use the oven method: Preheat the oven to 425F. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a shallow pan and whisk in the salt and vanilla bean seeds. Cover that pan tightly with foil and place it in another larger pan. Pour enough water into the larger pan to rise at least halfway up the sides of the smaller pan, and bake for 1-1/2 hours, or until it’s as thick and dark as you want it. Whisk until smooth.

If you’re dumb like me and forget to cover the pan with foil, you’ll end up with a dark, blistered skin on top that you’ll have to skin off if you want your dulce de leche to be smooth and creamy.

3. Measure the powdered sugar and almond meal into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Alternatively, just whisk them together by hand.

4. Whip the egg whites using electric beaters or a whisk. Gradually add the granulated sugar, continuing to beat until the mixture forms a glossy meringue. Beat just until there are semi-stiff peaks. You don’t want to overbeat the mixture to the point where it looks dry. Not So Humble Pie swears by hand-beating in a copper bowl. I used a KitchenAid and checked the mixture every 10-15 seconds once it looked thick and glossy. I stopped as soon as the peak formed by lifting up the beaters would stay standing up.

the peak folded over a bit, but the peak was stiff

4. Gently sprinkle 1/3 of the almond-powdered sugar mixture over the egg whites, and then fold in with a spatula just until almost combined. Use big strokes that scoop from the bottom of the bowl—you don’t want to deflate the egg white foam you’ve created too much. Repeat with the remaining two thirds of the almond meal—sprinkle and fold, sprinkle and fold, and then continue folding just until fully combined. It should flow like thick cream or pouring custard—if you spoon a little bit onto a plate, it should flatten into a smooth round on its own within 30 seconds with no peaks. If there are peaks that won’t flatten out, give the batter a few more turns with the spatula until it flows like magma.

5. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag or a ziploc with the tip cut off. Pipe little circles about the size of a quarter or a bit larger onto parchment-lined baking sheets.

6. Let the shells sit for 30-60 minutes, or until the tops are dry. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 290F.

7. Bake for 16-20 minutes, or until the shells are set. Watch carefully in the last minutes and remove them before they begin to brown. They should remain a tiny bit moist inside, like a mini version of pavlova.

8. Let cool completely, and then fill with dulce du leche (or whatever else you like).

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Sugar Cookies with Buttercream Frosting

A Modern Tradition

This my mother’s sugar cookie recipe, from her mother before her. I don’t know who my grandma got it from or when it acquired the name “old fashioned.” It can’t be older than mid-19th C. because it calls for chemical leaveners.These are not, however, the softest sugar cookies I've ever made. Click on the picture for the link to that recipe. The whole point of the sour cream is to provide an acid to react with the alkali baking soda and produce a tender, puffy cookie. That makes them completely unlike really “old-fashioned” cookies, which were usually unleavened and baked until they were completely hard and dry (for more on cookie history, see foodtimeline.com). However, now that chemical leaveners have been around long long enough to be part of recipes handed down for three generations or more, I suppose they can be “modern” and “old-fashioned” at the same time.

I like this particular recipe for Christmas cookies because it’s not as sweet or rich as most sugar cookie recipes—the ratio of fat : sugar : flour in the dough is 1: 1: 3. Compare that to the “Classic Sugar Cookies” in Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, which are 1: 1: 2, or Dorie Greenspan’s Sablés, which are 4: 3: 8. I’d go with one of the other recipes if I were going to leave them plain or just sprinkle them with colored sugar before baking, but I think the slightly less-sweet base makes them a better vehicle for frosting.

Frosting presents bakers with something of a dilemma: either you can make something gorgeous, sleek, and stylish, or you can make something delicious. In the cake world, that dilemma is primarily represented by fondant vs. buttercream. In the cookie world, it’s largely royal icing vs. buttercream. Behold Royal Icing: 

If I thought I could actually do half as good a job as Olivia does, I admit I might be a little more conflicted. dorie greenspans cookies                           From the Kitchen of Olivia                                                  Chow.com

Even though those are really pretty, and royal icing also has the benefit of setting up hard enough to handle any amount of stacking or transport, when it’s a choice between butter or no butter, I’m almost always going to choose butter.

They're cute enough, right? Although the noses almost invariably get squashed before anyone can appreciate them. In retrospect, I probably should have done a garland on the tree instead of ornaments, which have a vaguely pox-like effect.

Buttercream Nationalism

There are basically two kinds of buttercream—cooked and uncooked. However, there are varying techniques, and they’re referred to by nation. Italian buttercream is made by beating egg whites to stiff peaks and then cooking them by gradually adding a hot sugar syrup. Then you add softened butter, which will initially look curdled as it mixes with the hot meringue but eventually emulsifies. Swiss buttercream is similar, but instead of drizzling in a syrup, you cook the meringue by holding it over boiling water while you beat the egg whites and sugar together. French buttercream is made using the same technique as Italian buttercream, but with yolks instead of whites (a base called pâte à bombe).

For cakes and fillings, cooked buttercreams can’t be beat. All three versions are smooth and airy, pipe like a dream, and—most importantly—are totally delicious. They’re kind of like a custard or mousse made with butter instead of cream. But they’re not great for cookie decorating because they’re not very firm at room temperature. They’ll harden if chilled (just like the butter they’re largely composed of), but you wouldn’t be able to stack them first—you’d have to refrigerate or freeze them in single layers, which is a pain. And you’d have to keep them chilled in order to transport them without the frosting melting into goo. I make these primarily to send them to people who live across the country, so I need something with a little more structural integrity.

If you don't want to bother with all the fussy details, a slightly thicker layer plus some sprinkles can look just as festive.

The usual answer for cookies is American buttercream, which is just butter and powdered sugar thinned with a little milk or cream and beaten until smooth. It’s acquired a bit of a bad reputation because most grocery store bakeries use that technique, but they substitute shortening for the butter. The result is the flavorless, waxy, tooth-achingly sweet frosting you get on most grocery store cakes, which usually gets eaten around or scraped aside and left on the plate. But the method isn’t really the problem, it’s the shortening and the ratio of sugar: fat. 

Most recipes for homemade American buttercream call for nearly 4 : 1 sugar: fat. I cut the sugar by more than half. That makes it a little softer at room temperature, and if you’re going to use piping bags, you have to use small portions in the decorating bag to prevent the heat from your hands from melting it. But once it air dries, it’s just hard enough to stack (gently). Depending on how elaborate and delicate your decorations are, and what kind of abuse they have to withstand, they might arrive at their destination slightly squashed, but at least they’ll still taste terrific. 

Recipe: Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
(makes approximately 3 dozen)

Ingredients:

  • Sour cream1/4 c. melted butter 
  • 1/4 c. melted shortening or lard
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt (or 1 t. regular table salt)
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg or 1/2 t. cinnamon, or a dash of both
  • 1/2 c. sour cream

Method:

1. Pre-heat oven to 425F

2. Combine the melted fat, sugar, egg, and vanilla in one bowl. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in 3 additions, alternating with three dollops of sour cream. Stir until well combined.

4. Divide dough in half, and cover one half with plastic wrap. Roll the other out to approximately 1/4” thick and cut in desired shapes and place 1” apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

5. If you’re not planning to frost them, sprinkle them with coarse or colored sugar. Otherwise, leave plain. Bake 8-10 minutes or until just beginning to darken slightly at the edges.

christmas cookies 019christmas cookies 022 

Recipe: Vanilla Buttercream
(makes approximately 3 cups, which is enough to frost about 3 dozen cookies) 

christmas cookies 043Ingredients:

  • 20 T. butter, softened (2 1/2 sticks) 
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • a pinch of table salt
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. heavy cream

1. Using a stand mixer or a spatula, beat the butter until smooth and creamy—about 1 minute.

2. Add the salt and gradually add the sugar, beating slowly until incorporated. Add the vanilla and heavy cream and beat until combined.

3. Increase the speed to high and beat for 4-10 minutes, or until no lumps remain and it’s satiny smooth.

Oatmeal Chocolate-chip Cookies: righting institutional wrongs

charming compensatory cookies and crumbs

I usually don’t find the store-bought baked goods or catering tray pastries at University functions appealing enough to eat, not because they’re likely to taste bad, but because they’re so vastly inferior to their homemade equivalents it just doesn’t seem worth it. Which is to say: I usually know better than to get excited about the food at campus meetings. But last Friday was kind of strange—it was grey and wet outside and I had eaten a pretty light lunch and was feeling generally tired and overworked. All of which added up to really wanting something, anything that would fall into the category of a "treat." And suddenly, the plastic bins of cookies next to the sign-in sheets and stack of auto-generated powerpoint presentation handouts at a late-afternoon meeting I had to attend weren’t just appealing, they seemed potentially redemptive. For a moment, I was actually genuinely glad to be stuck on campus for this stupid meeting which was virtually guaranteed to be a waste of time. 

It didn’t last, of course. The meeting was even stupider than I’d anticipated—consisting primarily of one person summarizing the contents of an article that had been attached to the e-mail demanding my presence, adding only that this information was "very interesting," and then another person summarizing a bunch of information covered in a different series of e-mail messages. Both of them made a brief  show of asking for "feedback," but thankfully had the good sense not to really let people give them any because there were 80+ academics in the room and if they’d let them start talking, we’d have been there all night. And through all of this, I’m nibbling at this cookie which turns out to be dense and floury and a little stale. It was sort of soft-but-not-fresh in the way that vending machine pastries are soft-but-not-fresh, and there was no hint of butter or brown sugar. All it did was make me want a better cookie.

So, I made some. As the disappointing cookie I happened to grab was chocolate-chip oatmeal, that’s what I made—looking for a clean substitution, I guess. I used the first recipe google served up, halved because I didn’t have enough brown sugar for a full batch and didn’t need three or four dozen cookies to make up for one bad one. No chocolate chips, either, but I had some bulk Callebaut milk chocolate leftover from a candymaking project, so I chopped some of that up. Normally I prefer a darker chocolate in cookies, but I wasn’t going for perfection here. My motivating principle was that basically any homemade cookie would kick basically any storebought cookie’s ass. And these totally did.

The recipe calls for a relatively high proportion of butter to dry ingredients, so they spread out thin and lacy, almost tuille-like—definitely not the recipe to use if you prefer thicker or more cake-like cookies. They also contain twice as much oatmeal as flour, which makes them really chewy, but they stayed soft even after they cooled. If you’re more a fan of the crisp, shattering type of oatmeal cookies, again, this is not the recipe for you. The best part, like with most cookies, is how the sugar and butter caramelize, and I think that’s accented beautifully by the bits of chocolate and relatively high salt content. They couldn’t quite give me back the hour of my life I lost to the stupid meeting, but they definitely fulfilled my desire for a "treat." And definitely a go-to recipe for anytime you want a lacy, chewy oatmeal cookie.

Recipe after the jump.

Recipe: Oatmeal Chocolate-chip Cookies, adapted from allrecipes.com

creaming the butter and sugar Makes about 18 3" cookies

  • 1/2 cup butter (softened)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1.5 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 c. milk chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 325.

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Measure the flour, baking soda, and salt into the bowl and stir by hand until just combined. Add the oats and chocolate and stir until evenly distributed.

Drop rounded tablespoons or roll into balls approximately the size of large walnuts and place on ungreased cookie sheets.

no flash, back to the 1970s

Bake for 12 minutes, or until edges are browning but centers are just barely done. Let cool on pans for 5 minutes, just so they don’t fall apart, and then remove to wire racks. Don’t let them cool completely on the pan, or the sugar will start to harden onto the pans and they’ll be difficult to get off in one piece.

there are few things as satisfying as warm butter and sugar held together by just a little bit of flour and chocolate