Seven Days of Cookies: Cacao Nib Meringues a la Tartine

Tartine. The storied bake shop in San Francisco. Everyone has a Tartine story, almostimg_7759 all begin with the length of the line and include a remark on the size of their gougeres (softball). Even my own review includes both.

During my just under three-year-stint living in the Bay Area, I only visited Tartine the one time. I lived in Oakland and there were so many cakes to see and pastries to try. But their Cacao Nib Rocher is a sweet for the ages. Unforgettable. A mini-Matterhorn of vanilla scented meringue studded with cacao nibs. Such simple ingredients, it’s hard to imagine just why these are so spectacular. But they are.

tartine-rocher

The original from Tartine

As it happens, I own the Tartine cookbook. It includes a Rocher recipe but for their Almond version. However, since I am Nib obsessed, I decided to adapt the almond recipe to see if I could approximate the deliciousness of the originals.

Turns out, I could! Almost: I used to help my mom make meringues for some 1970s showstopper of a dessert so I used her  instructions (a holiday nostalgia moment), which call for three egg whites, cornstarch, and granulated sugar. (Tartine’s Almond Rocher recipe calls for 2 egg whites and powdered sugar.) And yes, both recipes call for one cup of sugar. Friends, I just can’t. So I reduced to 3/4 cup and these are plenty sweet. They are crunchy on the outside and a bit marshmallowy on the inside. These are perfectly lovely for the holidays what with their snow white color and dark specks.

The meringues are delicious on their own, but I suggest balancing the sweetness by serving two on a plate with a small puddle of bitter orange marmalade (warmed and strained) to round out the flavor.

Cacao Nib Meringues a la Tartine

Adapted from the Tartine Cookbook

Ingredients

Whites from 3 large eggs (about 1/2 cup), room temperature

¼ tsp cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

3/4 tsp  vanilla

1 Tbs cornstarch

3/4 c granulated sugar

½ cup cocoa nibs (I use Valrhona)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 250° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Whisk the cornstarch into the sugar in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Fit your mixer with the whisk attachment and combine the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl. Starting at low speed and gradually increasing to medium, whip until soft frothy peaks form.img_7755

Increase the speed to medium-high and gradually add the sugar/cornstarch mixture. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form when the whisk is lifted. Add the vanilla.

Continue beating until the mixture is glossy and very thick. Remove the bowl and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the cocoa nibs.

Using a #40 ice cream scoop, drop dollops of meringue on the prepared img_7756-copybaking sheets. You should get about 10 on each sheet. Use a small spoon to drop any remaining meringue on the tops of  the dollops on the sheet.

Bake for about 30-45 minutes, rotating and switching the sheets halfway through, until the meringues are crisp, dry to the touch on the outside (not sticky at all), and still white. When done, let cool on the pan on wire racks for 20 minutes or until completely cool.

Serve plain, or with two on a dessert plate alongside a teaspoon of bitter orange marmalade (1/4 cup heated in the microwave and strained).

Enjoy!

 

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Seven Days of Cookies: Cornmeal Fruit Biscotti

img_7733Here’s a thought. Make holiday cookies in September and take all photos. Then simply post, post, post in December.

Anyway, just in time for an afternoon break, these wonderful Cornmeal and Dried Fruit Biscotti from Alice Medrich are just waiting for a sip of Vin Santo.

The genius here is the addition of crushed aniseed. The licorice aroma might scare you at first, but steady on. It perfumes the cookies beautifully and is especially nice with the dried cranberries and apricots.

I love cornmeal-based sweets, both cakes and cookies. These do not disappoint. It took willpower not to tinker and add some orange  (because I love cranberry and orange so much), but Alice is a master of distinct flavor notes. Girlfriend does not need my help.

These cookies can be fragile so use a sharp serrated knife when cutting the baked loaf.

Cornmeal and Fruit Biscotti

Adapted from a recipe by Alice Medrich, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies

Makes about 30

Ingredients

1 c plus 2 Tbs (5 oz) all-purpose flour

1 c  (5.375 oz) cornmeal (I used white)

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

4 Tbs unsalted butter, softened

1 c (7 oz) white sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1 Tbs aniseed, crushed

½ c  coarsely chopped dried cranberries

½ c  chopped dried apricots

1 c toasted, coarsely chopped almonds*

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

img_7722Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt to blend.

Add flour mixture, mixing  until moistened. Mix in dried fruit and nuts.

Turn the dough out onto the parchment lined baking sheet, and with damp hands, pat and squish the dough into a 12-inch by 2-inch log. Usloafse a spatula or bench scraper to clean up any bits of dough clinging to the parchment around the log. (See pic at right: Pretty loaf on marble – no way to move that sticky baby to the pan. Use the parchment.)

Bake on the center oven rack for 35-40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until lightly browned and cracked on top. Cool on the cookie sheet on a rack for at least 15 minutes.

Slide the parchment onto a cutting surface. Use a long serrated knife to cut the loaf on a diagonal into slices about 3/8-inches wide. (If the loaf is too crumbly to cut, let cool completely.)

img_7730Transfer slices to cookie sheet, standing them ½ inch apart. Bake 15-20 minutes, until barely beginning to brown. Cool on rack. Once completely cooled, can be stored airtight for about two weeks.

Note: I cut my biscotti slices in half to increase my yield and, because, I don’t really like a long stick of biscotti.

Enjoy!

 

 

Bonus Holiday Cookie!

OK, so yes, we completed the Seven Days of Cookies, but in the course ofIMG_3696 all that baking, I came across a recipe from Alice Medrich that cried out to be tried. So even though I’ve been rolling [in] dough for a week, I had to make one more batch of cookies.

These are called Pebbly Beach Fruit Squares. The recipe is from Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies. These are beyond delicious, a crispy-chewy sandwich of delightfulness.

Notes

  • Alice says these cookies can be customized to your taste through your choice of fruit and spice. I love cranberry and orange so I used dried cranberries and candied orange peel with just a touch of cinnamon.
  • Make sure your fruit is moist! If it’s not, Alice says to soak it in water, juice or spirits for about 20 minutes (any longer and it will be too mushy to use). Pat dry before using.
  • Do the best you can when rolling the dough. It was a bit sticky so I rolled it between two pieces of parchment, flipping it several times and smoothing the paper. Even then I fell short of the desired 16.5 inch length.

I wasn’t sure whatIMG_3697 to expect from this cookie. I knew it would be good (Medrich, dried fruit, butter), but I wasn’t prepared for just how good. The kind of good that makes you laugh out loud.

Which is truly the best way to conclude a “baker’s dozen” of Seven Days of Cookies.

Enjoy! And have a beautiful Christmas!

Pebbly Beach Fruit Squares

Adapted from Alice Medrich

Ingredients

1 3/4 c plus 2 Tbs flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

8 Tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened but still cool

3/4 c granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla

Finely grated zest of one medium lemon and one smallish orange

1/2 c moist candied orange peel

½ c moist dried cranberries (coarsely chopped to about the same size as the orange peel)

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup crystal sugar

Preparation

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

squareIn a medium bowl (with a mixer set on low), beat butter with the granulated sugar until smooth and well blended but not fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and both zests, and beat until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix until completely incorporated.

Divide the dough in half and form each into a rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Wrap the patties in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of oven. Line two large baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the dried fruits with the cinnamon.

Remove dough from the refrigerator and let sit for 15 minutes to soften slightly.

IMG_3682On a sheet of parchment at least 17 inches long, roll one piece of dough into a rectangle 8.5 inches by 16.5 inches. With a short side facing you, scatter half of the dried fruit on the bottom half of the dough. Fold top half of the dough over fruit, using the paper as a handle. Gently peel paper from the top of dough. (If it sticks, chill dough for a few minutes until the paper peels easily.)

Press the top of the dough down lightly, then dust with half of the coarse sugar, again patting it lightly to make sure the sugar adheres. Use a heavy knife to trim thIMG_3683e edges. Then cut it into 4 strips and then cut each strip into 4 pieces to make 16 squares. Place cookies 2 inches apart on lined or greased cookie sheets. Repeat with remaining dough, fruit, and sugar.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Rotate pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. Let cool on sheets for about 10 minutes, then move to racks to cool completely.

Cookies keep in an airtight container for a week. Yields 24 to 32 squares. I wasn’t able to roll my dough to the full 16.5 inches so I ended up with about 24 cookies.

These are insane.

 

 

Seven Days of Cookies: Cherry Pistachio Mexican Wedding Cakes

One of the best parts of the holidays for me (as you might imagine) are theIMG_3589 copy cookies. I love to make them, give them, exchange them, receive them. Over the years, I’ve narrowed my personal baking selection down to a handful of exceptional, easy to make recipes. These are cookies that turn out great every time and each is a showstopper in terms of taste, texture, and beauty. Each also stands up to freezing, shipping and storing.

For the next week, I’ll share a cookie recipe every day so that by Sunday you’ll have everything you need to have the most delicious cookie tray ever.

Enjoy!

Cherry Pistachio Mexican Wedding Cakes

This recipe is adapted from Epicurious. I’ve been making these every year since I saw them in the December 2006 Bon Appetit. They are light, delicious, and wonderful to give. Make sure your butter is soft but not warm, and do sift your flours. You don’t want anything to weigh these babies down. Also, note, if you ever wondered what making cookies was like in the olden times, this is the recipe to work with: Mixing in the 5 cups of flour by hand is a bit of work, but like with scones and shortbread, the warmth of your hands does something magical to the dough. Just go slowly and be patient, the results are well worth it. PS, this is why you should use a very large bowl.

I use a rectangular 1 Tablespoon measure when forming the cookies, the results are more consistent. The original recipe says it yields 80 cookies. I reliably get about 60.

Ingredients

2 c (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 c powdered sugar plus more for coating

2 Tbs vanilla extract

1 tsp salt

1 c shelled unsalted natural pistachios (about 4 ounces), chopped (I use Trader Joe’s dry roasted, unsalted pistachios)

1 c dried tart cherries or dried cranberries (again, Trader Joe’s)

3 1/3 c sifted cake flour

1 2/3 c sifted all purpose flour

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange racks on the top and middle of the oven. Line two large baking sheets with Silpat or parchment. Set aside.

Beat butter and 1 cup powdered sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and salt, then pistachios and cherries. Dump in the flours and, usUntitleding your hands, carefully work the flour into the butter mixture. Be gentle, you don’t want to overmix the dough.

Using a rectangular 1 Tbs measure (or a generous round tablespoon), scoop dough and then roll in your hands into rough football-shaped ovals. Place on prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until bottoms just begin to color, about 16 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets 10 minutes before coating.

powderPour generous amount of powdered sugar into medium bowl. Working with 5 or 6 warm cookies at a time, add cookies to bowl of sugar; gently turn to coat thickly. Transfer cookies to rack to cool completely.

Can be made 4 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature. (I store mine in single layers in 1 Gallon Ziploc bags.)

Peaceful Peppermint Bark

The holidays bring a lot with them. A Santa sackful of stress and fun byIMG_3536 turns. They always seem to catch us off guard and we’re out of time before we even realize it’s December. Finding moments of calm and peace among all the merry mayhem is the biggest challenge of the season. For many years, my moments came with a Starbucks soy latte and one of the individual squares of peppermint bark they sold at the register. I’d sit in my car, preferably on a quiet side street, and silently enjoy my coffee and treat. It helped.

I no longer drink coffee but peppermint bark is still my number one favorite holiday treat. I used to buy it from Williams Sonoma, but a few years ago I tried making it. It’s so easy! Yet even knowing that, I continued to buy it. This year, though, when this charming video popped on my FB feed of Bouchon Bakery elves making their bark, it inspired me. I got out the hammer and the peppermint.

So this is my prescription for this hectic holiday weekend: Get your kids, your partner, or yourself into the kitchen and make Peaceful Peppermint Bark. It’s a treat that delivers on many levels:

  • Stress-relieving benefits of the peppermint
  • Endorphin-releasing pleasure from the chocolate
  • Full-on “take that!” energy release from bashing the candies

Plus, it’s takes only about an hour start to finish so it really isIMG_3533 perfect to make with kids. And it gets you back out into the merrymaking maelstrom in no time. Added bonus: You can give it as gifts!!

A word on the peppermint candy: Candy canes are fine. I’ve always used Starlight Mints which seem to be difficult to find these days. IMG_3538When I was a kid there were stands in every grocery store for Brach’s Pick-A-Mix. You filled a bag with an assortment of individually wrapped candies and paid by weight. (Each had a fairly stern “NO SAMPLING” sign, but we always did.) Apparently, such stands are no more. In the candy aisle I often find Brach’s butterscotch discs, but no mints. This year, I went to a few stores before finding Kroeger brand at Ralph’s. I’m sure there are differences in taste across brands, but really – just use what you can easily find.

The recipe is a common one – its also the easiest. As with all recipes, use the best chocolate you can find, especially the white chocolate. You want to read the label and make sure it includes cocoa butter. Don’t use white chocolate chips because they won’t melt or adhere well. Also avoid any IMG_3528white chocolate branded as “confectionary.” It’s sickly sweet, doesn’t melt well and is just a waste of your time. (Want to know more about white chocolate? Here’s a terrific post by Serious Eats.)

I use a combination of Valhrona 64% and Valhrona 72% (the bars you can get at Trader Joes) for the dark chocolate, and either Valhrona or Lindt white chocolate. (I get the white Valhrona in blocks at a specialty store, but Lindt bars are readily available in supermarkets.) You can use 6 oz of any dark or semisweet chocolate you like.

Tips

  • You don’t need a hammer, you can use any 15 oz can of something, but the hammer is faster and more satisfying. Just make sure you put the bag of candies on a wooden cutting board – don’t smash on your tile, marble, granite, etc. counters.
  • Melting dark chocolate: I don’t use a double boiler when melting chocolate. I have a low wattage mini microwave which works perfectly for dark chocolate.
  • Melting white chocolate: White chocolate is delicate and burns easily! I use a small, nonstick saucepan and melt the white chocolate over low heat, watching and stirring until just melted. Beware any incidental moisture! Steam or water, even a droplet, will cause your white chocolate to seize into a pasty goo!
  • Peppermint extract is optional. I like a little zing in my dark chocolate.

 

Peaceful Peppermint Bark

Ingredients

3 oz 64% cacao dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 oz 72% cacao dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/4 tsp pure peppermint extract (optional)

2 tsps canola oil, divided

6 oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 c crushed peppermint candies

Preparation
Line the bottom and sides of an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment, creating an overhang on two sides.

Put about 20 Starlight Mints (or other peppermint candies) into a Ziploc bag on a wood cutting board. Bash moderately with a hammer until you have a small crushed pieces. You don’t want a powder, nor do you want any big chunks. Think 1/8-inch dice. Bash until you have ½ cup.

Scatter abarkbout half the crushed candy across the bottom on the prepared pan. Set aside.

Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof measure in the microwave on low, stopping and stirring every 15 seconds until just melted. Stir in 1 tsp of canola oil and peppermint extract if using. Pour over the crushed candy in the prepared pan, smoothly gently with an offset spatula. Place in the refrigerator to set, about 20 minutes.

Put the white chocolate into a small saucepan (preferably nonstick) and, over low heat, stir gently until just melted. Stir in 1 tsp canola oil. Pour the melted white chocolate over the set dark chocolate, spreading gently with an offset spatula to cover.

IMG_3531Immediately scatter the remaining crushed candies (to taste) over the top of the white chocolate, pressing gently with spatula. Set in the fridge for another 20-30 minutes until set.

Heat the blade of a small, sharp knife over a gas burner ( or in a glass of boiling water, wiping it dry before using), and run the blade along the sides of the bark in the pan that aren’t covered by parchment. Use the parchment overhangs to gently lift the bark from the pan.

From here you can cut or break the bark into pieces. If cutting, heat the blade of a long knife before making each cut to ensure smooth sides. You’ll get 20-30 pieces depending on size.

Enjoy!

Full disclosure: I wasn’t paying attention this go round and made two big mistakes…. My white chocolate seized and I didn’t have any more of it, so I spread the paste in the prepared pan set over low heat on the stove, and then put it in the fridge to set. Because of this, I forgot to add the canola oil to the white chocolate. Therefore, my layers separate, as is obvious in the pictures. I wanted to get this post up for the weekend, so didn’t run out for additional chocolate to make a picture perfect batch. I’m so ashamed.