[From the archives. I’m not making a lot of cookies these days, but when I do these are still big favorites. They are quite plain but buttery-good, rather like shortbread but a little less rich. They are great Christmas cookies. Originally published December 2008.]
When it comes to cookies, I like them rather plain and not overly sweet. This traditional cookie from the Bretagne (Brittany) in France is so plain and simple, that the ingredients really shine. It is made of flour, sugar, egg, and the famously delicious salted butter (beurre demi-sel) of the region. Somewhat related to shortbread or sablé cookies but not as rich, for me they are almost the perfect cookie, and very more-ish.
The salted butter is the key to this cookie’s distinctive nutty, buttery sweet-salty flavor. The best salted butter from the Bretagne and other regions along the Atlantic in France are creamy-fresh and rich, with little glistening crystals of salt still visible. If you can get a hold of really good salted butter, you can use traditional recipes and the cookies will turn out the way they should. If not, some adjustments need to be made. So, I would recommend following the variation of the recipe that meets your butter quality.
(You might see something called galettes bretonnes au sarrasin. These refer to a thin crêpe or pancake made out of buckwheat (sarrasin) flour, usually served with a savory filling. I love those too, but these article is about the cookie galettes bretonnes.) continue reading...
[From the archives. These sesame cookies with matcha icing look and taste quite dramatic. In leaf shapes they are rather spring-like, but try simple rounds or squares for year-round appeal. Originally published in April 2007.]
Flavor wise black sesame seeds aren’t that different, if at all, from white or brown sesame seeds. But there is something about their dramatic black-to-grey color that is quite exciting. At the moment I’m quite enamored with black sesame seeds, and have been using them instead of the regular brown ones in everything from sauces to salads.
These leaf shaped cookies contain toasted and ground black sesame seeds, dark brown muscovado sugar, and whole wheat flour, and are decorated with matcha (powdered tea) royal icing. The sweetness is quite restrained, both in the cookie and in the icing. You are first hit by the tea-flavored, very slightly bitter icing, followed by the nutty darkness of the cookie. It’s an intriguing combination. They are a wonderful accompaniment to tea, black or green, hot or iced. If the ultimate cookie to you means something very sweet and gooey you may not like these. They are quite adult cookies.
I had to shoot the pictures in a hurry, because they were disappearing faster than almost any other cookie I’ve made recently.
Since I don’t have a leaf shaped cookie cutter, I just made a simple paper template and cut the leaves out with a knife. You can cut them out into any shape you’d like of course, though given the coloring leaves seem appropriate. Quite spring-like, in fact. continue reading...
Now that the weather is getting cooler, at least in these parts, there's nothing as appealing the smell of fresh baking filling the house. I don't think I have posted a simple baking recipe in a long time, so here's one that has become a favorite because it's so delicious and versatile. Here you see them in their cookie incarnation. (I used vegetable-shaped cookie cutters.)
Up close, for scale:
And here is the big scone incarnation:
The recipe is based on one for English scones, but it's savory rather than sweet. Inspiration also came in part from Hungarian cheesy scones called pogasca, which I first had on a short trip to Budapest some years ago, and can't forget since. Depending on how big you make them, they can be fluffy-in-the-middle scones, or crispy yet soft little cookies, or biscuits for Brits. (Confusing the matter even further is of course that scones are very much like American biscuits.) In any case they are really easy to make, especially if you have a food processor.
These savory scones/biscuits/cookies are made with olive oil, which imparts the unique fruity-peppery taste of the oil, and also makes them theoretically a tiny bit healthier than using vegetable shortening or butter. You can use butter of course if you prefer that taste. (I hardly ever use vegetable shortening in my cooking, so I can't speak for it. I use lard sometimes, but that's another story.)
I have used three cheeses for this - Gruyère, feta and Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) (plus cottage cheese), but you can use any bits of leftover hard or semi-soft cheese as long as it all adds up to about 1 cup in total.
If you make the scones very small and bake them until they are quite crunchy on the outside, they make perfect nibbles for a wine tasting. Make them larger and they are great fluffy biscuits/scones to have with a hearty soup or stew. You can also turn the large versions into very rich small sandwiches with a little roast ham or something in the middle.
These freeze beautifully and can be heated up in the oven, wrapped in foil, at 300°F/150°C for about 5 minutes for the little ones, 10-15 minutes for the big ones. The little ones can also be kept in an airtight cookie tin for about a week, so they are great to make ahead for a party. continue reading...
The usual image of homebaked chocolate chip cookies, at least in the U.S., is that of large, thick cookies with a soft, rather gooey center. The soft and gooey texture is so desired by many people that commercial cookie manufacturers even manage to maintain that in cookies that have been on the shelf for months. This to me seems very wrong. And, I don't think that gooey-soft necessarily indicates a good quality chocolate chip cookie either.
Sure, when you take the cookies out of the oven and eat them right away, they are sort of gooey and soft. But once they cool down, I prefer them to be rather crispy, even lacy, and delicate. For this reason I add a bit more butter than is normal in the traditional Toll House type of chocolate chip cookie. This makes the dough spread out more during baking, making the cookies thinner. Using slivered almonds instead of chunky nuts also makes them lighter and crispier.
If you prefer the gooey type of cookie though, use more flour or less butter.
I also use raw (light brown) granulated sugar instead of the fluffy dense brown sugar used in the traditional recipe. This is mainly because we can't get that "packed" sort of soft brown sugar here. Also, the dark brown sugar has a very pronounced molasses-like taste to me, which I don't think really fits for this cookie.
These are very adult chocolate chip cookies, because of the almonds and the dark chocolate chips. Of course kids love them also. I made these with the lemon bars in the preceeding recipe and meringue kisses for Easter, and boy were they popular. continue reading...
A while back I posted a recipe for lemon squares, a sort of cross between a cookie and a tart with a lemon-curd topping. Some people tried it out, and found it a bit too tart. I went back and fiddled around with the proportions of sweet to sour (lemon juice), and here is the result. There is more curd, which I think makes it even better. The curd is quite a bit sweeter with 1 cup of sugar, and the extra egg makes it creamier also. continue reading...
[Update:] A few people found this recipe to be not sweet enough. If you like your lemon bars to be a bit sweeter, try this recipe instead.
It's winter now and not much is in season fruit-wise. Of course we can get any kind of fruit and vegetables year-round now, but a winter strawberry is pretty tasteless. Fortunately, we have citrus fruits, shipped from warmer climates. continue reading...