Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hussar's Love

Cookies filled or topped with jam can be simple, like a classic thumbprint cookie, or complicated, like a layered, chocolate-glazed Austrian Ischler Törtchen. Wherever they fall on the spectrum, jam cookies are my first choice whether on a cookie plate or in a bakery case. So I was delighted to find that Jim Dodge shares a recipe for a simple yet elegant jam cookie called a Hussar’s Love in The American Baker [1987].

Dodge wrote The American Baker with Elaine Ratner when he served as the pastry chef at San Francisco’s elegant Stanford Court Hotel. His cookbook, which received a James Beard Award, is outstanding. It is precise without being dull and aloof. It presents a broad range of desserts that, to my tastes, are very appealing: a Strawberry Goat Cheese Tart; a Coconut Cream Pie; a Blackberry Cake; and cream Eclairs. In her introduction to Dodge’s cookbook, the pastry chef and cookbook author Maida Heatter writes: “[t]he first word to describe [Dodge’s] desserts is simple: pure and clean in design, and natural and undiluted in taste.”

My copy of The American Baker is full of notes proclaiming that a short dough recipe is my family’s favorite for pies, or that a butter cookie recipe is among one of the best around. I particularly like Dodge’s approach to cookies: they “should be small, perhaps an inch across, so that as you pick up each one you can’t help but look at it and pause in conversation to see how it tastes.” Dodge continues: “I almost never serve just one kind of cookie. I arrange four or five different kinds in neat rows on a small, round, silver pedestal tray and invite guests to pick and choose.”

If invited to help assemble such a tray, I most certainly would include Dodge’s Hussar’s Love: a petite, toasted hazelnut cookie dusted with sugar and topped with a dot of raspberry jam. This tender, buttery cookie is simply delicious.

½ cup toasted hazelnuts (filberts)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 ¼ cups cake flour
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
½ cup seedless red raspberry jam

Finely grind the nuts. Cut the butter into pieces. Place the filberts, butter, sugar, and flour in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix at medium speed until combined and then at medium-high until the dough comes together. Remove the dough from the mixer and divide it into 4 equal parts. Roll each part with your hands into a cylinder 8 inches long and ¾ inch in diameter. Put the cylinders on a tray and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment.

Cut the cylinders into ¼-inch-thick slices. Place the slices on the cookie sheets and bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately slide the parchment onto a counter or table. Cool to room temperature.

When cool, place the cookies very close together on one sheet. Put the powdered sugar in a shaker or a fine sieve; shake a thin coating of sugar over the cookies. Heat the jam gently until liquid. Pass it through a fine sieve, then spoon it into a parchment cone with a ¼-inch opening cut in the tip. Top each cookie with a dot of jam. Makes 90 cookies.

A few notes and thoughts: I add 1 of the 3 tablespoons of sugar into a food processor when grinding the nuts. This helps prevent the nuts from turning into butter. Cake flour contains less gluten giving these cookies their tender, crumbly texture. This recipe is great for small gatherings, whether your party is simple or more formal.

sandra trujillo ceramics

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Liquore latte di vecchia

This is the last post in a short series on homemade Italian liqueurs. Using Maria Pignatelli Ferrante’s Puglia - A Culinary Memoir [2008] as a springboard, we began with a recipe for Rosolio di limone, a bright-tasting, aromatic lemon liqueur. We next explored Nocino, a dark, complex liqueur made with green walnuts picked on 24 June, the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist. The last liqueur in this series is Liquore latte di vecchia or Old Lady’s Milk Liqueur. This curious yet worthwhile cordial is made with fresh milk, citrus, sugar and grain alcohol.

In the United States Liquore latte di vecchia is as obscure as lemon liqueurs are popular. I found two recipes in regional cookbooks from Italy (both recently published in the US by Oronzo Editions): Ferrante’s Puglia and Giuseppe Coria’s Sicily – Culinary Crossroads [2008] translated by Gaetano Cipolla. The great Pellegrino Artusi (Mr. Wilde’s neighbor on this site’s banner) has a recipe in The Science of Cookery and the Art of Eating Well [1891] that, in all but its name, is nearly the same as Liquore latte di vecchia. Artusi’s Rosolio Tedesco (or German Rosolio) contains a “garden lemon,” vanilla, grain alcohol, sugar and milk.

Although Ferrante’s, Coria’s and Artusi’s recipes are similar, they are not identical (not unusual for regional recipes). Ferrante’s and Artusi’s recipes call simply for milk, while Coria’s recipe calls for “goat or other milk, freshly milked”. Ferrante calls for half a lemon, diced, while Coria calls for the “zest of 1 orange or lemon, or vanilla.” Artusi’s recipe calls for both citrus and vanilla.

Artusi writes: “Don’t be taken aback by the strange composition of this rosolio, which is easy to make, delicately flavored, and as clear as water.” Yes, making Liquore latte di vecchia is easy. The only difficulty that you might encounter depends upon how fresh you want your milk. If store-bought milk is fresh enough, then making Liquore latte di vecchia is a breeze. However, if you want to use freshly milked cow or goat milk, then making Liquore latte di vecchia might prove a bit more challenging. Through a helpful lead from my editor, I located an organic dairy in California called Organic Pastures that sells one-day-old raw milk at a local farmer’s market.

Here is Ferrante’s recipe for Liquore latte di vecchia:

½ lemon, diced
5 cups sugar
1 quart milk
1 quart alcohol [pure, distilled]

Drop the lemon pieces into a wide-necked bottle. Add the sugar, the milk, and the alcohol. Seal hermetically and set aside to rest for 15 days, shaking the contents of the bottle every morning and evening. Filter the liqueur, transfer to clean, dry bottles. Hermetically seal the bottles.

A few notes. After adding all of the ingredients expect two things to happen: the lemon will begin to curdle the milk and the ingredients will separate. Be brave. Shaking the concoction over the 15-day infusion period helps dissolve the sugar and integrate the liquids, but do not be surprised if the liquids occasionally separate. Just keep shaking the bottle twice a day and all will be well.

After the 15-day infusion period I filtered the liqueur first through cheesecloth and then through a paper coffee filter. This produced a somewhat clear, slightly milky liquid. A second pass through a paper filter produced a relatively clear liquid, albeit with a slight yellow hue (presumably due to the lemon zest). Certainly compared to milk, this liqueur is, as Artusi puts it, “clear as water.”

Liquore latte di vecchia tastes like all of its ingredients; it is sweet and slightly lemony with a round, creamy flavor. But make no mistake: it packs a wallop (as would any drink using 151 proof alcohol).

As with Nocino, Liquore latte di vecchia rarely makes an appearance at local liquor stores here in the States. But its rarity alone is not a reason to make it. With its unique ingredients and delicate flavor, Liquore latte di vecchia deserves a broader audience. Enjoy it with a fellow Bunburyist of your choice.