30 January 2007

Cookies for Cynics

posted by gastrogirl @ 14:02 to section Cooking

I am so tired of the cupcake trend.

Perhaps saying so brands me as an infidel, but to be honest, they just don’t do much for me. We recently had two cupcake shops open in my city, and while the cakes are pretty to look at, I just don’t understand the recent national obsession with cupcake-only joints…particularly because the wow factor seems to reside mostly in the style and flavour of frosting, and I have never been keen on copious amounts of frosting. It makes my teeth hurt. So while there’s something to be said for visual appeal, the novelty just isn’t intriguing enough to hold my attention. If there are two types of people in the world, then I am a cookie person. Cupcakes, while fun in the right circumstances, take a back seat.

Because of this strange apathy towards fluffy, frosted cakes, it goes without saying that the standard birthday cake would wither in my house. I don’t dislike all cakes, but tend to prefer heavier, denser ones, and please hold the frosting (although ganache is A-ok). Perhaps if the cupcake shop had a wee flourless chocolate cupcake with no toppings….that is a trend I could go for. Er, but wait, I think that is basically a brownie. Anyway, my everyday sweet tooth prefers the humble cookie as the favourite fix in terms of size and toothsomeness. I like that they don’t need special containers and are easy to transport – all the better to give away if I’ve made too large of a batch. I like that they are drier, chewier, and often dunkable. Also…not that I should be thinking about health when consuming cookies, but in the “low-fat” realm, cookies seem to be able to hold their own better than many other baked goods do. On the other hand, perhaps Nick Malgieri‘s new book could put me in my place for that remark.

Even if you disagree, what better month than January to try out those cookie recipes you just didn’t get to during the holidays? Consider this my response to an over-frosted scene. A plus with the following recipes is that they both last for at least two weeks if kept in airtight containers, so no pressure to eat them all at once (ha ha). Since there’s no secret to my love of cookies with apricot and ginger, I was anxious to try Nic’s Apricot Ginger Oat Biscuits from Bakingsheet. Although these are two tastes that taste great together, they are nothing at all like the cornmeal cookies I made last summer, so if you’ve tried one recipe, don’t neglect its fraternal twin here. I made some minor adjustments to make them more flavourful, doubling the amount of ginger and apricots, as well as adding a splash of milk to the batter, as by itself it was too dry to hold together. Otherwise, the cookies were delicious – the corn syrup keeps them a little bit chewy inside, even though the outside is more crisp and biscuit-like. I should note that by “biscuit” I mean the British/Australian use of the term, which usually translates to “cookie” for Americans. I also have a possibly misguided perception that biscuits are less sugary and more crisp than American-style cookies. At any rate, these are just right for dunking into hot tea. They are homey and somewhat humble looking, but have a terrific flavour.

apricot ginger oat biscuits

In addition to the biscuits, I made another tea-compatible cookie: Cardamom Squares, adapted from another old recipe from Gourmet. They are not strictly cardamomy – more like just light spice cookies but with cardamom in a starring role. They’re extremely easy to put together, though, as most slice-and-bake type cookies are. They are tender, last for a long time, and look fairly elegant when drizzled with a bit of chocolate. The texture is somewhat more crisp than shortbread, but not quite hard, either.

cardamom squares

By the way, don’t you think Cookies for Cynics would make a great book? What sort of cookies would cynics eat? Something bitter, perhaps? I like the idea of a DIY series For Cynics, to replace those awful (Cooking,Business,Science,Remodeling,Whatever) For Dummies how-to books. Of course these aren’t really for cynics, and eating them won’t make you cynical…so don’t blame me!

There is one catch to my cookie fetish: since cookie recipes tend to be uncomplicated and ideal for quick gratification, it tends to make one lazy for trying more complex desserts. With that in mind, I ought to try something a bit more challenging soon! While I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day, it’s the next holiday I can think of that would give me an excuse to try something a bit fancier (I daresay Candlemas might be too obscure). Oh, as if I need an excuse anyway. Meanwhile, here are the recipes…

Apricot Ginger Oat Biscuits
from bakingsheet

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
generous 1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
Using an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add corn syrup, vanilla and water and mix until fully incorporated.
Add flour mixture to butter mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in oats, apricots and ginger. If the dough is too dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of milk until is is just moist enough to hold together with pressure.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet. Press down slightly on each cookie to flatten.
Bake for 13-16 minutes at 350F, until cookies are golden all over, not just on the edges.
Cool on baking sheet, before removing to a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.
Makes about 2 dozen.

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Cardamom Squares
adapted from gourmet magazine
This recipe can be doubled easily – just shape two logs instead of one.

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup of unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped.

Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, and allspice.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes in a stand mixer (preferably fitted with paddle attachment) or 4 minutes with a handheld. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, then mix in flour mixture until just combined.

Form dough into a 10-12 inch log. To square off the sides of the logs, you can press the dough gently between two rectangular aluminim foil (or plastic wrap, or wax paper) boxes. Otherwise, just roll into a cylindrical shape. Chill the log on a baking sheet until firm, about 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Slice cookies from the log, 1/4-inch thick, and place about 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, switching position of the baking sheets if necessary, until golden on the edges. Cool the cookies on the sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a rack.

When cookies are completely cooled, melt chocolate over a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl in the microwave on High for 1 minute or until just melted, stirring frequently. Spoon melted chocolate into a non-pleated plastic bag, snip a tiny piece off the end, and pipe a thin chocolate design. Let cookies cool on racks until chocolate is firm (you can place the cookies in the fridge to speed this step up). Store in an airtight container.

2 Comments

  1. These receipes sound just wonderful, have printed them out and will have a go. However, I am really looking for a sweet oat cookie/biscuit recipe that does NOT have any wheat flour in it, so that it could be given to someone with a wheat gluten allergy. Any ideas?
    By the way, since I am in England, is light corn syrup the same as golden syrup, i.e. holding its shape on the spoon and only very slowly forming a downwards cone shape before sliding off, usually needing a bit of help the clean the spoon?

    Comment by Margie — 13 February 2007 @ 6:53

  2. Thanks for your comment, Margie! In the apricot biscuits, golden syrup will work just fine.

    As for cookies with no wheat flour, I know that some shortbread recipes call for rice flour, which makes them more delicate. There is also an Arab cookie called Kaak Luz, which is basically like a coconut macaroon but uses ground almonds rather than flour (May Bsisu has a recipe for this in her book The Arab Table). You may also find recipes in Indian and Middle Eastern cookbooks for sweets that use semolina, although this will not produce the crispness that you may desire. Anyway, I hope this is somewhat helpful. Good luck, and do let me know what you find – I’m now curious myself!

    Comment by gastrogirl — 16 February 2007 @ 19:21

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