Saturday, January 24, 2009

All Cookied Out

Despite being unemployed I've actually been quite busy. The last few days I've been baking, cooking, baking and then cooking some more. Plus there was a little sewing and embroidery thrown in there. Because of this I've got quite a backlog of projects to report and I'll start with what was probably the most ridiculous undertaking.

Sunday (well technically I started Friday and haven't really finished yet) I baked a lot of cookies. I mean really, a lot, probably at least 7 or 8 dozen. Although it was kind of for a bake off I was the only one who ended up baking cookies which was fine because I just like having an excuse to make ridiculously fancy cookies, especially if I can find other people to eat most of them.

All the recipes came from Martha Stewart's Cookies. I've now tried seven recipes from that book and she hasn't failed me once, although that does not mean that they are all easy either. Here are the four I made this weekend:

Cigarettes Russes:

For these I had to make a very thin dough which chilled in the fridge overnight. The next day I spread small dollops very thinly on a buttered air bake pan (I didn't have those baking mats the recipe called for and frankly I didn't need them, but the air bake pans were essential). These went into the oven until they just started to brown the tiniest bit around the edges.

(An action shot of dollop spreading.)

Now here was the tricky part: they had to be rolled around a chopstick almost instantly or they wouldn't be pliable. The recipe said to do four at a time but I found that even with the boyfriend helping we could only do two at a time. Plus, if the dough cooked a minute too long it was unrollable. In addition we needed super thin dowels to get them to come out nice and narrow but the dowels, even with a generous coating of butter, still liked to get stuck once you'd rolled the cookie around it.

Finally we got the hang of rolling them but the process was so tedious we got less than two dozen done because of time constraints.

For decoration they got dipped in melted chocolate and then rolled in almonds. Next up:

Dark Chocolate Cookies with Cranberries

I think I've said this before but I think there are few things better then chocolate and cranberries. Because of this, when the recipe called for dried sour cherries (where the heck was I supposed to find those?) I thought dried cranberries would make an acceptable alternative, and perhaps an improvement.

For these cookies you make a chocolatey dough with cocoa powder, then mix in the dried cranberries and more chocolate. They called for bittersweet chocolate but of course all I had in the house was about 4 pounds of unsweetened chocolate and some semisweet chocolate. According to my research bittersweet chocolate is somewhere in between unsweetened and semisweet in terms of its cocoa content. So I just split the difference and used half of each to try to approximate bittersweet.

Here are the cookies before they were baked. I was dubious they would turn out looking like cookies but I should have know, don't doubt Martha.

Tada! Cookies! Next up we have:

Cornmeal Thyme Cookies with "Currants"

From the second I read this recipe I knew I had to try it. Truth be told I'm actually not that into sweets. (With the exception of course of my chocolate rampages which necessitate I eat something chocolatey and usually result in making brownies in the middle of the night.) But back to the cornmeal cookies: they appealed to me because they are actually more savory then sweet and I couldn't resist a cookie recipe that called for thyme!

I was also intrigued by using dried currants in a cookie. That was of course until I went to the grocery store to look for dried currants only to find the only thing they carried were zante currants which are actually little tiny raisins. Which made me wonder, which had this recipe intended? Do they actually sell dried currants anywhere in the United States? So I went with the zante currants which were still good but not nearly as exciting as dried currants would have been. I also splurged for fresh thyme because it seemed like dry thyme just wouldn't have been quite the same.

These are the finished cookies. They ended up being closer to cornbread then a cookie, a perfect accompaniment for tea. And finally:

Cappuccino Chocolate Bites

The first step in making these was to make the chocolate goo that went in the middle. It was simply cream and chocolate which was heated and mixed, then chilled overnight, and then whisked. (I'll admit I got a little help from my prep chefs with the whisking, I'm a bad whisker, no upper body strength).

Then it was time to make the cappuccino cookies. They were flavored with fine ground cappuccino grounds (I cheated and used instant). I rolled the dough out according to their instructions and began to cut out the cookies only to find that the dough got soft so quickly (perhaps as a result of the high butter content) that it was hard to get the shapes out without destroying them. What I ended up having to do was put them on the porch (it was 20 degrees out) every few minutes to chill them so I could continue working with them.

Once I had them all cut out, cooked and cooled I filled a piping bag with the chocolate and began to pipe it onto the cookies.

In the end I ended up having at least twice as much filling as I needed (but don't worry, I made another batch of dough today and used it all up.) This was surprising since I haven't found any other serious flaws with the recipes so far. As a final touch these cookies got a dusting of cocoa powder and confectioners sugar.

Here are some of the cookies ready to go to the party (I left a few at home, it wouldn't have quite been fair otherwise).

I don't want to think about cookies again any time soon. I even had to take a few days break from eating them, I got sick of the smell of butter if you can imagine that.

I almost forgot to mention the biggest revelation, I didn't have to cream all the butter and sugar together by hand. It finally occurred to me to try it in my food processor and it worked perfectly! To think I'd been doing it by hand this whole time. Although there is additional clean up with this method if you are making as many cookies as I was it still saved time over doing it by hand. (And also, as I mentioned, I don't have much upper body strength so creaming by hand is a lengthy process.)

That was a lot of cookie related information so here is a wrap up of what I thought of each recipe, in case you decide to try them too:

Cigarettes Russes: Although technically and visually impressive the flavor was really close to a sugar cookie so I'm not really sure they warranted the effort.

Dark Chocolate Cookies with Cranberries: The substitution of cranberries worked perfectly and these were definitely popular. They weren't that difficult and although the recipe makes a huge batch of dough it can be frozen so you can make only as many as want and save the rest for easy cookies some other time.

Cornmeal Thyme Cookies with "currants": These were surprisingly popular and were also the most unusual of the cookies I made. Although fairly simple to make they are more on the sophisticated side so I wouldn't suggest making them for a children's birthday party (unless of course you have weird kids who like cornbread cookies with herbs in them.)

Cappuccino Chocolate Bites: By far the most popular cookie I tried but also a big pain in the tuches (which means ass in Yiddish but somehow seems less offensive). The dough was difficult because it had to be frozen every few minutes to be workable so you either need a big freezer or very cold weather. The filling was also tricky because it has to be made ahead of time and then whipped up for use and finally piped onto the cookies (although I also did it with a butter knife which worked fine). And of course, to top it all off, they don't transport well because the cookies are fragile and the filling is very squishable. But despite all this they were still worth it, so doesn't that really say something for their flavor? But as cautionary note: I think they contain more butter than anything else so I wouldn't try to substitute margarine, their flavor is too dependent on butteryness.

After all this cookie consumption one would think I'd want to exercise to work off all that butter, but then clearly one doesn't know me very well. I'm off to do more baking.

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