Friday, December 24, 2010


This is the final post in a short series on cookies. We began with a recipe for Strassburgers, followed by a recipe for Cantucci di Pinoli e Rosmarino. Now we conclude with Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for an outstanding French cookie called a sablé. The recipe appeared in a 7 November 2004 New York Times article entitled “Cookie Master”.

Wonderfully rich, Greenspan’s sablés are crisp yet tender with a distinctly crumbly texture (sablé means sandy in French). Where most sablé recipes call for just a pinch of salt, Greenspan, influenced by the great pastry chef Pierre Hermé, adds considerably more. Her take on the sablé is the only cookie that begins to rival my dear old aunt’s Armenian butter cookie called kurabia.

Here is Greenspan’s recipe for sablés.
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter (preferably high-fat, like Plugrá), softened at room temperature
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted before measuring
  • ½ teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt
  • 2 large egg yolks, preferably at room temperature
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

For the decoration (optional):
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Crystal or dazzle sugar

1. Working in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until it is smooth and very creamy. Add the sugars and salt and continue to beat until smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy, about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in 2 egg yolks, again beating until well blended.

2. Turn off the mixer, pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer and pulse the mixer about 5 times at low speed for 1 or 2 seconds each time. Take a peek; if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of more times; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, stir for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist. If you still have some flour on the bottom of the bowl, stop mixing and use a rubber spatula to work the rest of it into the dough. (The dough will not come together in a ball—and it shouldn't. You want to work the dough as little as possible. What you're aiming for is a soft, moist, clumpy dough. When pinched, it should feel a little like Play-Doh.)
3. Scrape the dough onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a smooth log about 9 inches long (it's easiest to work on a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to help form the log). Wrap the logs well and chill them for at least 2 hours. The dough may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.
4. When ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and keep it at the ready.
5. To decorate the edges of the sablés, whisk the egg yolk until smooth. Place one log of chilled dough on a piece of waxed paper and brush it with yolk (the glue), and then sprinkle the entire surface of the log with sugar. Trim the ends of the roll if they are ragged and slice the log into 1/3-inch-thick cookies.
6. Place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between each cookie, and bake for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the halfway point. When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top. Let the cookies rest 1 or 2 minutes before carefully lifting them onto a cooling rack with a wide metal spatula. Repeat with the remaining log of dough. (Make sure the sheet is cool before baking each batch.) Makes about 50 cookies.

Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to All!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cantucci di Pinoli e Rosmarino

This is the second post in a short series on cookies. We began with a recipe for Strassburgers from a Swedish cookbook entitled Sju Sorters Kakor. Next up is a recipe for Cantucci di Pinoli e Rosmarino from a new cookbook by Mona Talbott and Mirella Misenti entitled Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome: Rome Sustainable Food Project [2010].

The American Academy in Rome’s mission is to foster the pursuit of advanced research and independent study in the fine arts and humanities. Inspired by Alice Waters’s vision of making the Academy’s food reflect its high ideals of scholarship and art, the Academy launched its Roman Sustainable Food Program in 2007. In Biscotti’s Forward, Waters writes: “The recipes in this book are a perfect expression of the values of conviviality and purity embodied by the Rome Sustainable Food Project. Each of these cookies brings with it a taste of time and place—the ingredients are seasonal, organic and local—and no cookie is so big or so sweet that eating one will interrupt conversations at the end of a meal.”

Biscotti is not and makes no claim to be a collection of authentic Italian recipes. Rather, the cookbook features fifty cookies that are a part of the kitchen’s repertoire. Some of the cookies are Italian, for example Brutti Ma Buoni (or Ugly but Good). Other cookies are quintessentially American, such as Snickerdoodles. However, all of the cookies in Biscotti are Italian in spirit; like Roman cooking, they are direct and simple. Essential flavors of Italy—pine nuts and rosemary, cornmeal and almonds, pistachios and oranges—permeate the book’s collection.

If you pick up this book you will be struck by its handy size. Like Sju Sorters Kakor, it is half the size of a typical cookbook. I find these dimensions particularly useful and friendly. (A number of my British cookbooks are like-sized.) Biscotti can and should be compact as it presents a limited offering. I think its narrow focus is a virtue and not a fault. Biscotti is concise and easy to use.

I also like the size of the kitchen’s cookies. As Waters states, the biscotti presented are piccolini (i.e., small or tiny). They are just the right size to serve with coffee or tea, or as a dessert with a glass of wine.

Here is a recipe for a pine nut and rosemary cookie called Cantucci di Pinoli e Rosmarino. This unique and wonderful cookie is a variation of the classic, twice-baked Biscotti di Prato.
  • 110 g / ¾ cup pine nuts
  • 175 g / 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 10 g / 2 tbsp fine cornmeal
  • 2 g / ½ tsp baking powder
  • 2 g / ½ tsp salt
  • 4 g / 2 tsp rosemary, minced
  • 60 g / ¼ cup + 1 tsp butter
  • 138 g / ½ cup + 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 large egg
  • 10 ml / 2 tsp Marsala

1) Preheat the oven to 150°C / 300°F.

2) Spread the pine nuts evenly on a baking sheet and toast for 8 – 10 minutes or until golden.

3) Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and rosemary in a medium-size mixing bowl.

4) Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest at high speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix until well incorporated. Change to low speed and add the Marsala. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in two parts and then gently fold in the pine nuts until evenly combined. Wrap the dough in plastic film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

5) To bake, preheat or reset the oven to 180°C / 350°F.

6) Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it in two. On a floured surface form each portion into logs 2.5 cm/ 1 inch in diameter. Transfer the logs to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes.

7) Once cool transfer the cookie logs to a cutting board and cut them into approximately 1-cm / ½-inch slices with a serrated knife. Lay the cookies flat on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and bake for 6 – 8 minutes, until golden brown.

These cookies will keep well in a sealed container for up to 1 month. Yields 60 cookies.

I baked the cantucci using the metric measurements without incident. I also substituted white wine for the Marsala and the cookies tasted great.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Maccarones Inferrettati

This is the fourth in a series of posts on making fresh pasta. Using Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta [2009] as our guide, we examined pappardelle, toppe and cavatelli. To make these shapes we enlisted the help of some simple household pasta machines. We now put away the machines and take up the knitting needles. Maccarones inferrettati is a short, tubular pasta that is made by rolling a small piece of dough on a thin wooden stick (such as a knitting needle), a piece of metal (such as an umbrella rib or bicycle spoke) or, historically, a narrow plant reed.

Zanini De Vita categorizes maccarones inferrettati as a Sardinian version of a type of pasta called fusilli. Fusilli is a tubular form with roots in Sicily and Sardinia where the practice of shaping dough on a thin reed arrived with the Arabs. This pasta making technique spread through the south and center of Italy where a host of different fusilli variations now exist. These pastas are made with durum or tipo 00 flour (or a combination of both) with or without eggs. Some versions begin with a small piece of dough, others with a thin strip of pasta. Whatever the starting point or final shape, the shared characteristic of these tubular forms is that they are all made using a long, thin tool. Blacksmiths used to create these utensils called ferretti. Although you can still find fusilli irons for sale today, wooden knitting needles have become the tool of choice.

The key to making any number of the pastas in Zanini De Vita’s outstanding treatise is having a suitable dough recipe. The following dough is easy to roll and to work with using a wooden knitting needle. This recipe makes approximately 450 grams of dough.
  • 200 grams Extra Fancy durum flour
  • 100 grams tipo 00 flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Approximately 6 to 7 tablespoons water
  • Salt

1) Weigh out each flour, mix them together and then sift the combined flour into a large mixing bowl.

2) Make a well in the flour and crack the egg into the well. Add the olive oil and salt. Beat the egg mixture with a fork and incorporate the beaten egg mixture into the flour with the fork until the eggs disappear and a crumbly mixture forms.

3) Clean the dough off of your fork and add this dough to the bowl.

4) Holding the bowl with one hand, reach into the bowl with your other hand and continue to mix the dough by hand. In small increments, add the water to incorporate all of the flour in the bowl into a rough dough that holds together.

5) Turn your dough onto a clean work surface. Wash your hands to remove any dough before kneading.

6) If necessary, lightly dust your work surface. Knead the dough for approximately 5 to 6 minutes until the dough is smooth.

7) Lightly flour the dough and wrap it in plastic. Let the dough rest at room temperature for ½ hour.

8) Unwrap the dough. Cut the dough into equal eights. Remove one piece to roll and cover the remaining pieces to prevent the dough from drying out. Make sure the pieces are not touching one another or they may stick together.

9) Make sure your work surface is clean and free of any trace of flour. (Flour takes away the tack necessary to roll the dough.) With your hands, roll the piece of dough to form a rope the thickness of a cigarette. Cut the rolled pasta into ½-inch long pieces.

10) Place a piece of pasta on your work surface. Lower the middle portion of a 2.0 mm/ 20 cm /No. 0 knitting needle down into the center of the pasta. With your fingers, gently roll the dough forward so that the pasta wraps itself around the knitting needle. (Pressing down too hard while rolling increases the chance of the pasta sticking to the knitting needle.) Gently roll the pasta back and forth on the needle until the pasta is approximately 3-inches long. Slide the pasta off the knitting needle.

11) Repeat until all of the pasta is shaped. Lightly dust the pasta with flour and spread out on a lightly floured surface. Let the pasta dry for at least one hour before cooking so that the pasta’s hollow center doesn’t collapse during cooking.

12) Cook the maccarones inferrettati in a large pot full of salty, boiling water. When you add the pasta, the boil may slow or disappear. Mix the pasta in the water to help prevent the pasta from sticking together. After the water has returned to a full boil for approximately 3 to 4 minutes, start testing the pasta. It is ready when it loses its raw taste yet is still firm to the bite. Drain the pasta into a colander and shake the colander to remove excess water. Add the pasta into your ready sauce and cook the two together for a minute or two.

Zanini De Vita writes that fusilli-type pastas, including maccarones inferrettati, are “generally served as pastasciutta with a piquant ragù especially of lamb or pork, but also with vegetable-based sauces, and plenty of grated local pecorino.” Pastasciutta is pasta served with a sauce as opposed to pasta served in a broth or soup.