As you may know, we’re baking along with the Modern Baker Challenge, chapter by chapter through the recipes in Nick Malgieri‘s The Modern Baker. Our fearless leader Phyl decided that, it being December and all, cookies were the next sugar-topped mountain to climb. Marie’s already made sour cream brownies (as she put it, “better than anything out of a box”), and now it’s my turn to make Pine Nut Macaroons, basically almond cookies studded with those familiar teardrop-shaped nibs.
My love of anything almond started when I tried the soft, aromatic marzipan on a trip to Toledo, during my study abroad year in Spain–where some believe it may even have originated. (Previously, I had thought marzipan equalled those rock-hard sugar decorations atop grocery store cakes and couldn’t really figure out why anyone would intentionally eat them–and this coming from someone with a sweet tooth). I was possibly charmed into loving marzipan with the mere explanation that in Spain it used to be sold at pharmacies as it was considered a cure for chronic fatigue and other such maladies. This is obviously a clever way to justify “self-medicating” yourself into a sugar high.
As I have plenty of pine nuts in the fridge (they are so pricey, I can’t afford to let them go rancid), when I was “assigned” these cookies in our virtual challenge, I charged full steam ahead. I measured out (almost) all my ingredients, and then realized I didn’t have the one ingredient that got me going down this path to begin with: almond paste. (Jump first, then look, is that how it goes?) Fortunately, I recalled that our same fearless leader had posted, about a year ago, how to make your own. And as long as you have a food processor, it’s blindingly simple. Kicked up with a bit of almond extract, it’s got all that almondy-amaretto flavor I love, and I can see why Phyl now makes his own.
Making the cookies is easy too, though this is one of these cases where simplicity just makes technique and proper proportion all the more important. Here’s where I hit another minor (but very minor) snag. I couldn’t find my quarter-cup measures for the sugar (thus, eyeballing it with a half-cup measure because I didn’t want to measure out my sugar/life in coffeespoons).* I probably added not quite enough in the end. What’s more, I have a bad feeling I added just a touch too much egg-white liquid. The result was that, even piped out, my cookies didn’t hold together into the nice tight orbs featured in the cookbook’s photo, but flattened out even before they confronted the heat of the oven. I thought about scraping my flat little circles back into the bowl to add more sugar and firm them up. But I decided that was probably a bit obsessive, and too much effort for a Monday night.
But it was OK. My vision of these cookies was for a textured exterior, but soft and yielding in the center. Instead, I got shattering discs that were crisp and crunchy. Yet, because the all-important, amaretto flavor was preserved, there was no cause to complain.
That’s the thing with baking. Sometimes you don’t come out with what you intended to make, but what you come out with can still be just as good. And that is success, however modest, can be success enough. Perhaps a bit like so many other things in life.
As a side note, we’ve been plugging away at the Modern Baker for almost two years now, so it’s probably goes without saying that this book has been a hit with all Three Clever Sisters. While we’ve been keeping our ovens hot, a paperback edition of the Modern Baker has come out, and Nick Malgieri has sent all of us “challengees” signed copies. Now in possession of two copies, one of mine has made its way to an excellent cook who still claims to be hapless at baking. She’s reported that this book is clear and straightforward enough to convince even her to give it another shot. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law, who I believe is at a cookie decorating class as I type these words, has long been greedily eyeing my other copy. I guess , in short: this is a great baking book for anyone, at whatever level. (In case you’re in need of ideas these days).
*As that sentence may have been completely nonsensical, I should explain that this was an attempt to reference T.S. Elliot. Karen’s already dared to eat a peach, so I’m just continuing in a well-worn, if slightly bookish, path here. 4 tablespoons actually equals quarter cup, but I threw caution to the wind and guesstimated, and you’ve seen the results.