Oh, you think I've been languishing, do you? Waiting by the phone for Ms. Reichl to call? Listlessly dusting my cookbook collection?
That's what cell phones are for. You don't have to sit by them. And I haven't been languishing, I've been cooking my butt off. Or baking, I should say, because people, I am almost done with the Cookies, Bars and Confections chapter.
Can you believe it? I can't.
It's not like I went crazy for some bake sale--we were so low on cookies at work post-Christmas that we were down to just one or two varieties (we try to keep about 10-12 different kinds in the freezer).
Chef hat on. Melissa gets down to it.
First up, Madeleines.
Now, here's the problem with madeleines: they require a special pan. The whole POINT of these things seems to be the shape, because the cookie is nothing more than a little tiny shell-shaped cake. Did I have this pan? No.
But about a month ago my husband and I were in a kitchen supply store in Concord and I spotted some--and not just the madeleine pans, but mini-madeleines. Perfect for work, where the ideal size for a brownie is about the size of an international stamp. My husband got me the pan, because he's awesome.
Here's the pan. It doesn't look mini cuz I took a close-up shot.
Now, here's the problem with this recipe. Or maybe it's the problem with me. OK, it's definitely the problem with me, and here it is: if you don't get the amount of cake batter EXACTLY right, the batter overflows the mold a little bit and then you get this kind of crusty fin that sticks out all around the cookie. For somebody with a sculpture degree (me) who is obsessive (me) that means HOURS practically sitting there cutting the little fins off to get the right little shell shape.
And see how I rolled the edges of those in powdered sugar? All the while I was thinking how stupid they were in the cookbook to direct us to "dust scalloped sides with confectioner's sugar". Obviously you can't dust just the SIDES--you're going to get some on the top too. Well, this is what they meant. Der.
Next up: Date and Oat Bars.
These are very agreeable, nice bars. They are like the pleasant boys in class that your mother wants you to date, who get good grades, and stay out of trouble. But oh, you're thinking, if only they were more like CHOCOLATE!
These were very tasty for cookies that don't have chocolate, though it must be said that if you hate Fig Newtons for texture reasons you will probably hate these. I happened to be baking in the company of a young lady who hates Fig Newtons, so I can confirm this.
Number Three on the list: New Orleans Praline.
This was actually the final Confections recipe for me--I've done them all now (not THAT hard a task since there were only six). And I must confess, in the take-it-or-leave-it dept, I think I could leave this one. It's not really fudge, it's not really candy, it's kind of a weird hybrid. Maybe you just can't make it correctly unless you're in New Orleans. Here's what mine looked like:
Cookie #4: Shortbread.
What? you're thinking--This is the First Time you've made shortbread?
Nojeezumgivemeabreak! I've made it about ten gazillion times but never This Particular Recipe. So many times that I forgot to take a picture of this one, even though I jazzed it up with hazelnuts on top, much to the dismay of the above-mentioned young lady who hates Fig Newtons and who used to live in Scotland. Or maybe it was England, but anyway someplace where they bake and eat a lot of shortbread and have STANDARDS, for chrissakes. And those standards don't include putting hazelnuts on top.
But for people who like pictures, here is a picture of somebody else's shortbread. Just envision hazelnuts on top:
The fifth cookie was Langues de Chat, or Cat's Tongues for those of you who like to name your cookies after body parts.
This was one of those recipes that required an Exotic Ingredient, in this case Orange Flower Water, which unbelievably is a beverage in some parts of the world where drinking perfume is yummy.
You think I'm being a jerk, but you've got to smell this stuff. I guess it would be great for chronic bad breath, though.
The idea of this cookie is that it's a long, thin, sugared wafer that is ideal as a complement for ice cream (for example). You shape it by piping lengths of batter on a silpat-lined baking sheet. You can see my idea of what a six-inch strip is changed just a little bit while I was piping:
Good thing I'm not a carpenter.
My problem with these cookies is that the difference between almost done and burnt was the blink of an eye. It was driving me nuts! Here's where about half of them ended up:
By the way, it was just sheer coincidence that I had thrown away some wilted flowers, lest you think I was decorating the trash can for this shot.
So batch after batch were just on the edge of burning, and I was so pissed, and I finished the batter and the last batch and went to turn off the effing oven, and what was it set to? Not 325, as the recipe directs--352.
Yes, good thing I'm not a carpenter and also good thing I'm not a....some other job that requires numbers. Like an air traffic controller.
I'm actually planning on remaking these at some point, just to prove I can program the oven correctly.
The LAST ONE (for today, not the chapter): Almond-Apricot Biscotti.
I love biscotti! They are so crunchy and yummy, and they're the perfect shape, somehow. We make tiny ones at work, not longer than three inches, and slice them very thinly--less than half an inch. This particular recipe hits MY buttons because it involves toasted almonds, one of my favorite flavors. I'm a fool for almonds, I tell ya. And even though I was working with freeze-dried apricots (???) instead of normal dried ones, they turned out to be those California apricots Gourmet writers go on and on about (as opposed to the Turkish ones, which are less tangy and interesting).
Here they are:
What could possibly be left, I hear you cry? I can practically list them on one hand:
Oat Lace Cookies
Coconut Tuile Cones (these are actually a vehicle for ice cream)
Cinnamon Chocolate Cigarettes (the surgeon general LIKES these)
Swedish Ginger Thins
Gingerbread Snowflakes (tree decoration)
Stained Glass Teardrops (more tree decorations)
Watch this space. When I'm done with the chapter, I'll announce My Favorites.
"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."
--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008