Monday, December 23, 2013

Cookies Allowed

I certainly wouldn't want to say anything myself, but my friends say that I bake a mean cookie. Aaah, the cookie, is anything better?


We all have favorite flavors, textures and styles: chocolate chip or macaroons, biscotti or benne wafers, crisp or soft, balanced or very sweet, rolled or dropped, egg whites or butter, plain or frosted, giant or dainty bites. Normally, I am not too sweet but crisp, buttery and nut-centric. However, I never met a cookie that I didn't want, to paraphrase Will Rogers (I can hear the callow ones now...Who the hell is Will Rogers?)

{Full disclosure: I love store-boughts; my favorites  are Vienna Fingers, Mallomars, Nutter Butters, Oreos and those cheap, by-the-pound gingersnaps.}

The same few ingredients can produce a variety of results. More flour and less sugar gives a cakey texture. Wetter doughs or batters yield crispness. Chewy textures can come from particular temperature and time balances. Overbaked cookies can be unpleasantly hard. Lots of sugar produces the lacy cookies that almost no one makes any more.

Macaroons are a good case in point. They are very simple preparations, nut meals or coconut and sweetener bound with egg whites. Often a particular macaroon calls for baking at such a low temperature that they become dried rather than baked. Some are not baked at all.

Since they are generally made without flour or dairy they were adopted for Passover to meet the strict dietary requirements. One Spring I made hundreds for the Jewish Community Center. My year of running a kosher kitchen.

crunchy coconut macaroons
The whole category of cookie is Italian (naturally) and from the ninth century. Macaroon derives from a word for pounding almonds into a paste. The paste was sweetened with honey and mixed with egg white. The egg both loosens the stiff almond paste and then binds it when baked. You can make your own almond paste by pounding blanched nuts with sugar. For the DIYers: You probably need to live in the California central valley where you can raise your own almonds, sugar cane and chickens. Truly house macaroons.

I've made many varieties including the very fussy, contemporary (developed about 1930) French "Macaron". They are beautiful but way too sweet for my taste.

this style was invented in 1930 at LadurĂ©e's 

My favorite, though is the Italian style, like the cherry stuffed Mareschi pictured above (and below.) I love the intense almond flavor with a crisp skin and a moist interior. I think of them as a particularly harmonious Christmas treat.

The ones I've just made are my version of the traditional form, just a bit less complicated. I grated a pound and a third of almond paste added three egg whites and mixed it thoroughly in my stand mixer. I found the dough too wet and so added a third of a pound of almond flour. There is enough sugar in almond paste already. I formed each piece into a ball and poked a dried Montmorency cherry in the middle. Finally they get neatened into a rough drum shape and dusted them with powdered sugar. 

300 Fahrenheit for 25 minutes (on parchment) and they're done. 

Brigid Burns                                                                                                
Happy holidays and, as always,


1 comment:

  1. Yum! I love macaroons. Thanks for the reciepe and the history. Cheers, Anne