Chocolate Pistachio Sables

I could try to write a long post here:

  • about how my sister-in-law introduced me to the wonder of a versatile cookie that is a sable last Christmas, a tender French sugar cookie that can be endlessly varied and which never wears out its welcome-

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (6 of 6)

  • about how I finally managed to make beautifully circular roll cookies rather than flattened tires (wrap your cookie roll tightly in parchment, cut the inner tube of a paper towel roll, slide your misshapen cylinder inside and roll it to cookie perfection and chill on a flat surface in the freezer, turning a bit in the first half hour or so to make sure it sets)-

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (2 of 6)

  • about how these cookies are beautiful and festive all on their own–studded with glistening chocolate and green pistachios–without need of mixing up seven shades of frosting nor a steady decorative hand-

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (3 of 6)

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (4 of 6)

but we know I’m not so diligent about my posting these days.  I trust you prefer a slightly abbreviated post now to a mid-January missive, so it’s time to get to the point and get you the recipe (from this month’s Bon Appetit).    Absolutely a must make.

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (5 of 6)

Chocolate Pistachio Sables
Recipe Type: cookies
Author: Adapted from [url href=”http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/chocolate-pistachio-sables”%5DBon Appetit[/url]
Ingredients
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1¼ cups (lightly packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg white
  • 5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon salt).
Instructions
  1. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, kosher salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.
  2. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients; mix just to combine, then mix in the egg white. Fold in chocolate pieces and pistachios. (While you want these to be roughly chopped, don’t worry if you have a few larger chunks. When you slice the cookies you’ll cut through any too-large pieces of chocolate or nut).
  3. Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into an 8”-long log about 1½” in diameter, pushing dough together if it feels crumbly. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and chill until firm, at least 4 hours. (The colder your dough, the easier it will be to slice.) As I noted above, roll inside a paper towel tube to get a uniform shape, and chill immediately.
  4. Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Working with 1 log of dough at a time and using a serrated knife and a sawing motion, cut logs into ¼”-thick rounds and transfer to 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing ½” apart. Be extra careful to keep up the sawing motion near the base of the cookie log as it otherwise might tend to break off with an uneven rough finish.
  5. Sprinkle cookies with sea salt and bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until set around edges and centers look dry, 10–12 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.
Notes
Per Bon Appetit, the dough can be made 1 month ahead; freeze instead of chilling. Slice frozen logs into rounds just before baking.

 

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Lebkuchen (Austrian Gingerbread Cookies)

Sad to say, this blog has a regrettable dearth of Christmas cookies.  (Or cookies in general).  I hope this post can help make amends.  With marmalade (if like me you have too much), brown sugar, molasses, a riot of spices, plenty of eggs, and of course candied ginger, these cookies are full of flavor and well worthy of the holiday season.

Christmas Lebkuchen (8 of 8)

I’ve loved this slightly chewy, soft gingerbread cookie (in contrast to the crisp, snappy variety) since enjoying is as often as I could in the Czech Republic.  Besides beautifully decorated showpieces, every grocery store stocked multiple varieties single serving cakes filled with your selection of jam and glazed in a thin veneer of chocolate.  Years later, I even imposed upon  my friend Jennifer to bring me back some from her annual trip to Austria, along with marzipan and plum paste.  (That’s sort of a lot, isn’t it?)

Christmas Lebkuchen (1 of 8)

These cookies are so easy to make–it’s whirred up in the food processor and frozen for at least four hours to stiffen it up a little.    I left mine in the freezer a full twenty four hours, and you can see how soft and viscous it is even after that–so don’t skip that step or you may turn an easy cookie making venture into a frustrating one.

Christmas Lebkuchen (3 of 8)

Scooping out with a cookie scoop is definitely helpful (see that part about being sticky and viscous above), but the good news is even as imperfect as my scoops started looking, they all baked up into lovely rounds.  Even my younger son enjoyed helping–that’s his cute little hand.

Christmas Lebkuchen (2 of 8)

Christmas Lebkuchen (4 of 8)

The frosting is as simple as can be–sugar held together by milk and a bit of butter.  It’s nothing but pure saccharine, which actually is the perfect icing for such complex and rich cookies.  Everyone I shared these cookies with gave them rave reviews, and I hope you enjoy them as much as we all did!

Christmas Lebkuchen (6 of 8)

Lebkuchen (Central European Gingerbread Cookies)

Ingredients
  • Cookies
  • 1 1/2 cups blanched whole almonds
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sweet orange marmalade
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger (1 ounce)
  • 1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 5 large eggs
  • Icing
  • 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, or toast, stirring frequently in a hot dry skillet for about 5 minutes, until fragrant and lightly golden. Remove to a plate to stop the cooking, and let cool completely.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves, allspice, salt and nutmeg.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the cooled almonds until coarsely chopped. Add the brown sugar and pulse until incorporated. Add the marmalade, candied ginger and molasses and pulse until the mixture is well blended and the nuts are finely chopped. Add the eggs all at once and pulse until just incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and pulse until incorporated and the batter is uniform in color.
  4. Scrape the soft batter into a bowl, cover and freeze until very firm, at least 4 hours.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350° and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Using a 2-tablespoon ice cream scoop, scoop 8 level mounds onto each baking sheet, about 3 inches apart. Freeze the remaining batter between batches.
  7. Bake the cookies in the upper and lower thirds of the oven for about 20 minutes, until risen and slightly firm; shift the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Transfer the sheets to racks and let the cookies and pans cool completely. Repeat with the remaining batter.
  8. In a bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with the milk and butter. The butter will eventually incorporate. Spread the cookies with icing (it’s easiest to pick each cookie up and frost it rather than frost them on a plate) and let dry completely before serving or wrapping.
Notes

The cookies can be stored between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Christmas Lebkuchen (7 of 8)

“Exceptionally Good” Macaroons

My love of coconut is a new thing.  We didn’t eat much of it when we were growing up, so I didn’t bake with it much.  With so many other tasty options in bakeries, I would go for the good ol’ standby rather than try something new.  My attitude seems to be more “why mess with a good thing?” than my sisters.  I remember Sara made coconut cupcakes for little E’s first birthday and sent home the extra flaked coconut home with Marie who was visiting.  I thought, “huh.  Coconut?”  Slightly intrigued and yet since I was on the other coast during that birthday I had still not had the occasion to enjoy.

Last year, Paul sent me this picture:

A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

It was a chocolate dipped coconut macaroon.  He bought this delicacy at the Mt. Bachelor ski lodge near Bend, Oregon.  It’s about a 3 1/2 hour drive from where I live now in Portland, so the treat did not make it to me for a sample.  However, he discovered they were ALSO sold at Kettleman’s Bagels, which happened to be in my neighborhood and in my work neighborhood.  These macaroons were the size of your fist, sweet coconut goodness with just the right amount of chocolate.  Wow.  Love.  Sometimes we’d split the macaroon sometimes we’d each get our own.  Occasionally my boss and I would treat ourselves on a particularly tedious Friday afternoon.  She’s a fan too.

I mention that Kettleman’s HAPPENED to be in the neighborhood.  Past tense.  A few months ago it was bought out by Einstein’s bagels.  Much of the locavore community here in Portland was up in arms with the diminished selection of bagels (a controversy that was dubbed “Bagelgate“).  They took to facebook indeed!  I, however, have mourned the coconut macaroons.  Resigned with the knowledge that the treats were no more, I decided it was time to learn how to make them.

I found this Alice Medrich recipe on Salt and Serenity via my good friend Lis.

Were I to do this again, I’d try with shredded coconut to be more in line with my original favorite, but as one recipient commented, they are “exceptionally good” macaroons.

Exceptionally Good Macaroons

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3 1/2 cups (5.25 ounces) unsweetened dried flaked (not shredded) coconut, also called coconut chips OR 3 cups (9 ounces) sweetened dried shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or foil Set aside.

2. Combine all of the ingredients in a large heatproof mixing bowl, Set the bowl directly in a wide skillet of barely simmering water and stir the mixture with a silicone spatula, scraping the bottom to prevent burning, until the mixture is very hot to the touch and the egg whites have thickened slightly and turned from translucent to opaque, 5 to 7 minutes. Set the batter aside for 30 minutes to let the coconut absorb more of the goop.

3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

4. Using 2 tablespoons of batter, make attractive heaps 2 inches apart on the lined cookie sheets.

Bake for about 5 minutes, just until the coconut tips begin to color, rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.

5. Lower the temperature to 325°F and bake for 10 to 15 minutes and again rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time. If the coconut tips are browning too fast, you can lower the heat to 300°F.  I also covered them with a little foil because I don’t prefer them too dark.

6. Set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool. If you plan to add chocolate, press a small piece of your favorite chocolate into the cookies while they are still hot.  I tried semi-sweet chocolate and dark chocolate – whatever suits your fancy!


7. Let cool completely before gently peeling the parchment away from each cookie. The cookies are best on the day they are baked—the exterior is crisp and chewy and the interior soft and moist. Although the crispy edges will soften, the cookies remain delicious stored in an airtight container for 4 days.

Modern Baker Challenge: Lime-Scented Wafers

I don’t make cookies as often as you might expect–for someone who blogs a lot about baking, if you poke around here enough you’ll note that my posts on this topic are scant.  It’s probably just a matter of taking the easy way out–I just prefer something I can stir together and dump into a pan all at one go.  (So when I figured out that you can basically bake muffins as a quick bread, you can guess what happened).

Lime Scented Wafers (1 of 5)

However, I did sign up for the Modern Baker Challenge, and a few weeks ago, you might just recall, was Christmas, so it’s practically obligatory to turn a few batches of cookies out of the oven.  With no particular plan in mind I leafed through my second copy of the Modern Baker down in DC. (It’s not because I’m obsessed that I have a spare:  Nick Malgieri was kind enough to send all us participants a personalized signed copy so I now have two, which turned out to be quite convenient).  I paused at the page for the lime-scented wafers–citrusy, simple, with a single batch turning out enough to feed a crowd, this seemed like the perfect option.

Lime Scented Wafers (2 of 5)

This is nothing more than a basic roll cookie–formed into a tube, chilled, and sliced–scented with lime juice, coated in lime zest and sugar crust.  Pretty simple, but like many things that are simple, difficult to get absolutely perfect.  Aesthetically at least.  It might be failure begetting failure, with me making bar cookies too infrequently to get the technique down, but my carefully rolled cylinders always emerge from the fridge flattened at the base.  So instead of crisp little cookie disks I get something looking either like a deflated tire or worse, a badly drawn rectangle.  I tried to smoosh them back into the desired shape as I placed them one by one onto the baking sheet but it got to be tedious, and with the dough softening more and more I wasn’t improving matters.  For those of you baking along, I also ended up using only about half of the lime sugar coating.    I meant to find some creative use for it, but with kitchen real estate being very tight in a full house, down the garbage disposal it eventually went.  If you make these, I’d say you only need half the quantity called for.

Lime Scented Wafers (3 of 5)

Fortunately, I am not a professional baker, and my in-laws are not so fussy about the details as long as the cookie tastes as it should.  (Substance over form here, people).  Crisp and fragrant, with a crunchy sugar edge, it was a welcome component of my husband’s family’s traditional “Platter of Sin.”  They softened a bit after a few days, but were still being happily nibbled on.

Lime Scented Wafers (4 of 5)

So while these cookies were definitely not a disappointment (and there was an impressive quantity of them), I’d still say I have to work out a few kinks before I become a cookie-making superhero.  In the meantime, if there’s any secret tricks you’d care to share, I’m all ears.

I leave you with a shot of the infamous Platter of Sin.  And be assured, that’s only a small portion of it, lest you have any fears that it’s not sinful enough.

Lime Scented Wafers (5 of 5)

Modern Baker Challenge: Pine Nut Macaroons

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.

Pine Nut Macaroons (5 of 6)

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.

Pine Nut Macaroons (2 of 6)

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.

Pine Nut Macaroons (3 of 6)

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.

Pine Nut Macaroons (4 of 6)

America’s Test Kitchen Boston Blogger Cookie Challenge

Recently I’ve found some fun new Boston-based food blogs–and it’s a good thing:  I’m not always the most up on things, so I have to rely on others to get me up to speed more often than not.  And luckily for me, I found out just in time via Megan about America’s Test Kitchen Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Challenge.  About noon today, to be exact.  Entry (via a blog post describing your experiences making the recipe) due tonight by 11:59 eastern.  Winner gets a trip to the America’s Test Kitchen Studios (they of Cooks Illustrated) to watch a taping of the show!

So:  I win, I get to go to the studio and meet a gaggle of amazing food folks, and I lose, I get to try some amazing chocolate chip cookies?  Not a hard decision.

I wasn’t surprised to see that this recipe had some major departures from your standard toll house recipe–most notably, using brown butter.  (I’ve blogged about using  brown butter before here).   Though it seems like making brown butter adds an extra step, it only seems that way because it’s a little unusual:  in fact it takes less time than waiting for your butter to soften as most recipes require.  (I do always try to cheat and soften in the microwave, which works out for me sometimes, and which sometimes just creates another mess to clean up).  Better here that it’s not even necessary at all.  Also, I’m always happy not to have to haul out a mixer.  Here, you only need a whisk and a spatula.

But back to the brown butter.  I was a bit nervous that I had overdone things burned the butter.  Browning butter caramelizes the milk sugars and imparts a nutty aroma.  Per the recipe, I swirled and cooked my butter until it was a golden brown, but got nervous when I poured the liquid into a bowl–in a deeper vessel, it looked almost burnt.  And was the aroma charred or nutty?  I couldn’t tell.  I tasted it and didn’t note anything off so I continued.  Not helping the looks of things were the foam collecting over the surface and rather dark butter solids gathering at the bottom of the bowl.  Nevertheless, after mixing in the sugar I began to feel heartened–the aroma became that of a decadent caramel.  (And as I love caramel, this could only be a very good thing).

The cookie dough was remarkably glossy and smooth, a deep golden brown that held together well as I portioned it out onto the cookie sheet.  And the result was truly delicious.  Browning the butter really does seem to add something special to the flavor profile, and the cookies are moist and chewy without being overly cakey.  I think this recipe is a keeper. While it’s a bit of a departure from the standard method, it’s easy and produces fabulous results.  If you’d like to try, check it out here!

Hmmm…I think I need another one.