This month sees two of the blogosphere's most celebrated events, Is My Blog Burning? and Sugar High Fridays, combined into one diet-busting extravaganza: a Holiday Cookie Swap! I must have been feeling guilty about my recent lack of participation in blogging events, or else I was bitten badly by the cookie bug, because it seems I went a little overboard. I woke up Saturday morning and immersed myself in a marathon session of sugar, butter, eggs and nuts, only to emerge Sunday evening with not one, not two, not even three, but four types of cookies to show for it. Luckily the results were more than worth the effort - they're all unbelievably delicious, and hopefully they'll provide the inspiration for some new and exotic treats to add to your holiday cookie table. Thanks to both Alberto and Jennifer and happy baking!
Persian Rice Cookies
Persian Rice Cookies
These naturally-wheat free cookies come from Iran and the beautiful (and highly recommended) book on Persian culture and cuisine called New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij. They're intoxicatingly scented with one of my favorite flavor combinations, cardamom and rose water, and crumbly and rich from the addition of clarified butter. I was tempted to rename them 'Persian Wedding Cakes' - alluding to their similarity with a certain crumbly dome-shaped cookie from Mexico - but I decided these are good enough to merit their own linguistic identity. I did have a problem with the recipe as written, I must say. Using the specified amount of rice flour left me after mixing not with a shiny, moldable dough, but rather with a sticky, viscous paste. It took the addition of nearly twice the amount of flour called for to achieve a consistency suitable for shaping. I was worried about the impact of all that extra flour on the cookies themselves, but I needn't have worried - they were perfect: dense, tender and just sweet enough. This may vary based on the brand of rice flour you use, but don't fret if you also find that you need to add much more flour than called for - the important thing is that the dough is firm enough.
Source: New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij
Yield: 36 cookies
For the syrup:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup rose water
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
For the batter:
1 cup clarified butter (instructions follow)
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
3 cups rice flour (have up to 6 cups handy)
1/4 cup pistachios, chopped, for garnish (optional)
Clarify the butter by bringing it to a boil over very low heat. Simmer for 15 minutes, removing foam from the top as it rises. When the liquid looks clear and the milk solids have settled to the bottom, decant the liquid into another bowl (leave the solids behind).
Prepare the syrup by combining the sugar and water in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the rose water and lime juice, and set aside to cool. It should be room temperature and not too thick before proceeding.
Beat the egg yolks into the cooled syrup until incorporated. In a large bowl, combine the cooled butter, cardamom and rice flour. Mix well, then add the syrup mixture and mix until the dough is quite stiff and is no longer sticky [my note: it should be thick enough to hold its shape; if it's not, add more rice flour in 1/4 cup increments until it is firm and shiny, with a texture like PlayDoh®].
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Line a cookie sheet with baking paper. Take a spoonful of dough the size of a walnut, roll into a ball between your palms, flatten slightly, and place on the cookie sheet. Repeat, leaving about an inch between cookies. Place the cookies in the preheated oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until firm and cracked on top. They should still be quite white.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool before removing from the paper, and be careful - these cookies crumble very easily.
One word describes these cookies: amazing. After my recent love-affair with olive jam, when I spotted the recipe for these cookies I knew I had to make them. They're unlike any other cookie I've had before, combining the texture of a tender shortbread with the floral grassiness of olive oil and the salty bite of cured black olives. There's a bit of hesitation at the first bite, but after that, you simply can't stop eating them. The recipe for these comes from the talented Susan Herrmann Loomis, resident expert on French cuisine and author of several books including On Rue Tatin. This particularly recipe, she explains, "comes courtesy of Jean-Pierre Autrand, whose family produced olive oil at Les Vieux Moulins in Nyons, an ancient olive mill, until 1952. Mr. Autrand found this recipe in his family's archives, updated it, and sells the results at the gift store adjacent to the olive mill." You can find Mr. Autrand at Les Vieux Moulins, 4, Promenade de la Digue, 26110 Nyons, France. 011.33.(0)4. 75. 26.11.00.
Source: Susan Herrmann Loomis, recipe online here
Yield: about 34 cookies
9 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered/icing sugar, sifted
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
pinch of fine sea salt
1/2 cup cured black olives, preferably from Nyons, pitted and coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until it is soft and pale yellow. Mix in the sugar until blended, then drizzle in the olive oil and mix until combined. Add the flour and the sea salt, and mix gently but thoroughly until the dough is smooth, then add the olives and mix until they are thoroughly incorporated into the dough.
Place a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper on a work surface, and place the dough in the middle*. Cover it with another piece of waxed or parchment paper and roll out the dough until it is about 1/4-inch thick - 1/2 cm. (The dough is very sticky, and the paper makes it possible to roll out.) Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, and up to 24 hours. Cut out 2-inch (5 cm) rounds of dough and place them about 1/2-inch (1.3 cm) apart on prepared baking sheets. Gather the trimmings into a ball and roll it into a 1-inch (2.5 cm) diameter log. Wrap well and refrigerate, and when you are ready to bake, cut off 1/4-inch thick rounds. (This avoids over-rolling the dough.)
Bake until the scourtins are golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
*Instead of rolling and cutting, I actually found it easier to press all the dough into a shallow pan by hand, shortbread-style, score rectangles, and cut them immediately after baking.
Polish Raspberry Mazurkas
I'll start off by telling you that this recipe probably doesn't come directly from Poland. While there is a type of pastry there called a Mazurek, which I believe is eaten at Easter and contains a rich dough topped with fresh and dried fruits and nuts, this particular cookie seems to be a Seattle delicacy. When I was in college I spent a summer working at a small coffee shop on Bainbridge Island, across the sound from Seattle, and by far the most popular pastry we sold was a small bar cookie with raspberry jam called a 'mazurka'. I never found out who supplied these ambrosial cookies, but I have since seen references to several Seattle bakeries making and selling them, and I have to assume it's a local adaptation of the Polish pastry that has taken on a life of its own. I'm happy to stand corrected if anyone knows anything more about them or has another recipe to share, but for my attempt to recreate them I turned to the only recipe I could find on the internet and modified according to my memory and tastes. While not quite living up to what I remember, they are pretty close, and got the thumbs-up from Manuel as he proclaimed them his 'favorite of the weekend'. Don't ask how many he ate.
Source: adapted from this recipe
Yield: makes about 12 bars, depending on how you cut them
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup walnuts, ground or very finely chopped
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 lb raspberry jam
Ricciarelli (Sienese Almond Cookies)
Ricciarelli (Sienese Almond Cookies)
These chewy little almond gems are similar to the more famous Amaretti Morbidi (soft Amaretti), but are a specialty of the Tuscan town of Siena. When Manuel and I were last in Siena a few years ago, I spent the better part of a day searching for these elusive cookies and buying as many variations as I could. I had hoped to have some to take home as gifts and edible souvenirs, but they were so good we had finished them all by the end of the day! Snow-white outside and meltingly soft inside, they're a fragrant, cloudlike version of the best marzipan you've ever eaten. This recipe comes from Tessa Kiros and her enchanting book on Tuscan food, Twelve. I loved Tessa's version of these cookies for the orange peel she adds - it raises the almond ecstasy to new heights and gives the cookies an injection of citrusy freshness that cuts the sweetness a bit and provides the perfect counterpoint to a cup of strong black espresso.
Source: Twelve by Tessa Kiros
Yield: Makes about 20 cookies
3 cups (300g) almond flour
1 1/3 cups (280g) caster/superfine sugar
1 1/4 cups (150g) powdered/icing sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest of 1 orange
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons almond extract
Line a baking sheet with baking or parchment paper.
Mix the almonds with the sugar, two-thirds of the powdered sugar, the baking powder and the orange zest in a bowl. In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks, then stir them into the almond mixture. Using a large spoon, mash the mixture to a wet, sticky mass. Stir in the almond extract.
Form oval or torpedo shapes about 2.5 inches long, roll in the remaining powdered sugar, and flatten slightly. Put them onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, allowing room to spread slightly, and sift the remaining powdered sugar over the tops. Leave the cookies at room temperature for about 2-3 hours to dry a little before baking.
Preheat the oven to 275F/140C. Bake the cookies for about 30 minutes, or until they are lightly golden and a little firm on the outside (the insides should still be soft). Cool completely and store in an airtight container.