Monday, April 30, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Señoritas

Page 218 in the old book / page 242 in the new book

Sorry, my cookie post is arriving a little late today... I just got back from a wonderful weekend which I'll tell you a little about in the next day or two.

These cookies have lots going for them: they're crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle, they're very easy to make, and they're loaded with brown sugar and toasted almonds. Once again I find myself championing a cookie that some found plain. I thought the toasted almonds in these cookies gave them great flavor and added a nice crunch, lifting them well above the ordinary.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "This cookie grew on me. At first, I thought there wasn’t much to the cookie, but after a few bites, I really liked the brown sugar and crunchy almond taste. Rating - 4.0"

Laura: "These cookies are sweet and crunchy. The flavor is nice, but they aren't very "exciting" (as cookies go). Rating - 3.0"

Denny: "OK but a little too sweet 2.0 (-1 for no chocolate). Rating - 2.0"

Terri: "These are delicious, especially if you like almonds. The texture is chewy, but the almonds make them a bit crunchy too. There's just enough brown sugar, so these are almost an almond flavored sugar cookie. Rating - 4.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.3

Next week - French Filbert Macaroons

Nutrition Facts

Monday, April 23, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Chocolate and Peanut-Butter Crescents

Page 216 in the old book / page 241 in the new book

You might be thinking, "What's with the thumbprints, aren't these supposed to be crescents?" Yes, yes, that's true and as you can see, I did make some crescents, but the dough was painfully crumbly and the crescents were pitifully cracked, and (perhaps most importantly) shaping those crescents was taking far too long. After a good hour and a half I had only shaped about half of the cookies. It was becoming more difficult rather than easier, as the dough seemed to be getting more crumbly. I seriously considered tossing the remaining dough, but then it occurred to me that a thumbprint shape might work.

I can't say Maida didn't give fair warning: "These are small candylike cookies that take time and patience." I just ran out of time and didn't have the patience. The cookies are shaped by taking a small amount of dough, rolling it into a ball, pressing the ball flat between your hands, and then wrapping the flattened dough around some peanut butter filling. The filled cylinder is then tapered on the ends and curved slightly to form a crescent. Rolling the dough into a ball and even flattening it was not a problem, but wrapping it around the peanut butter caused the dough to crack. I did the best I could to heal the cracks by pinching them, etc., but it was futile. Thankfully, the cracks didn't get any worse during baking and the filling didn't ooze out.

And though the crescents weren't especially attractive, I thought they tasted great. The cookie is thin and hard and the filling is quite soft - a really nice contrast. (The panel, you'll see, was less than enthusiastic.) The thumbprints were OK, but there's too much of the dense cookie and not enough of the filling.

I opted not to roll these in powdered sugar or vanilla sugar as suggested in the recipe, but one or the other would have made the cookies a little more attractive. I'm not sure I have it in me to try making these again, but if I did I think I might try cutting down slightly on the flour with the hope that the dough would be less crumbly. I'd also be tempted to drizzle on some chocolate and/or peanut butter icing to give the cookies eye appeal. If I resorted to making thumbprints again, I think a dollop of chocolate icing on top (so that it completely covered the peanut butter filling) might make the cookies more like Reese's peanut butter cups.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I thought, 'What could be better – chocolate and peanut butter together'. Somehow, I was disappointed. The cookie was very crunchy almost to the point of being hard and wasn’t fudgy enough for me. The peanut butter was too thick and stuck to the roof of my mouth and teeth. I know Cathy said that the crescent shape was difficult and took a lot of time, so I feel bad about making a negative comment, but the cookie for me was disappointing. Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "You can't go wrong with chocolate and peanut butter! The cocolaty cookie crescent was a little too crispy/crunchy, but the flavor was delightful... especially when mixed with the creamy peanut butter filling. Rating - 4.0"

Denny: "Not bad but kind of disappointing. My taste buds were expecting a Reese's peanut butter cup cookie, but it was not even close. Not enough chocolate or peanut butter in the recipe. High expectations meet a lesser reality. Even with the chocolate bonus, I rate them a 3.0 as crescents or thumbprints. Rating - 3.0"

Terri: "These are delicious - kind of like a cookie-Reese cup candy! They have a crunchy texture and just the right amount of peanut butter. Even though I don't consider myself a
'chocoholic', these are great. Rating - 4.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.6

Next week - Señoritas

Nutrition Facts

Monday, April 16, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Chocolate Oatmeal Crispies

Page 214 in the old book / page 240 in the new book

Light and crunchy with lots of texture from rolled oats and coconut and a deep dark chocolate flavor - can't complain about that! I expect these cookies would keep very well and despite the fact that they shatter into tasty bits in your mouth, they seem relatively sturdy too. Definitely one to remember next time you're thinking about mailing cookies to someone special.

For some reason lately I've been in a dither over what kind of coconut to use. In years past I've always relied upon either Baker's or the store brand of shredded coconut and never thought twice about it. But these days I do most of my shopping at Whole Foods and neither type is available there. That together with my sense that the product I've always used has been getting sweeter and stickier over the years has led me to seek out an alternative. I'm confused about the kinds of coconut too and suspect there are some alternatives that either are not available to me or I haven't stumbled upon yet. For these cookies I used Bob's Red Mill Medium Shredded Coconut, which is a dried, unsweetened coconut. I rehydrated it in warm water, then put it in a paper towel and blotted out the excess moisture, and then measured it. I've also used frozen (the one I was able to find was sweetened, but presumably less so than Baker's), and I've used the "coconut powder" available in Indian grocery stores, but can't remember for what. I'd be curious to hear what types of coconut you use and any tips you may have about swapping one kind for another.

OK, back to the cookies. They use semisweet chocolate, which give them a surprisingly dark color and taste. They're very easy to mix and shaping is just like a peanut butter cookie: roll a blob of dough into a ball and then press a fork in two directions to flatten the cookie slightly. They spread during baking, so though they're shaped like peanut butter cookies, they don't look like them.

Here's the panel...

Laura: "Tasty, crunchy, and deliciously chocolaty. A little bit drier than I like my oatmeal cookies to be... but still very yummy! Rating - 3.5"

Denny: "Very good. Crunchy and chocolaty with lots of texture. Better than you'd think just by looking at the name. Rating - 4.0"

Drucie: "You can't go wrong with chocolate! These cookies were nice and crispy. The oatmeal and the coconut gave the cookie a nice texture. And best of all - no nuts in these cookies! Rating - 4.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.0

Next week - Chocolate and Peanut-Butter Crescents

Nutrition Facts

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Something (slightly) different...

Mondays with Maida is taking a little Easter holiday, but will be back next Monday with the Chocolate Oatmeal Crispies originally promised for this week. In the meantime, here's a non-Maida cookie to tide you over...

I first wrote about these cookies about two years ago, after my trip to Sicily. These Belli et Brutti (beautiful and ugly) are more commonly called Brutti ma Buoni (ugly but good). I've never made french macarons, but as I made these it occurred to me that you could think of them as a very rustic italian version of that confection. But maybe that's a stretch.

In any case they too are primarily almonds, sugar and egg whites. I had trouble last time I made them because instead of remaining pleasantly chunky as I remembered them from Maria Grammatico's Pasticceria, they spread until they were flat as could be. So this time, I decided to cut the baking powder in half and leave out some egg white. They still spread but were much closer to what I remember. I question whether the baking powder is needed at all and think I might try leaving it out completely next time.

This time I also ground the almonds myself rather than purchasing almond meal. Since a hand cranked meat grinder was recommended over a food processor, I tried the grinder attachment to my Kitchenaid mixer which I reasoned was similar in design. It "ground" to a halt in about 15 seconds. With great difficulty I finally opened the grinder to remove the almonds and sugar and found that a solid almond disk had formed just under the plate with the blade embedded in it. I literally had to chip away at the almond to remove the blade. Moral of the story: use the food processor!

The cookies are wonderfully crunchy on the outside and moist and chewy within. They are very, very sweet, but as I recalled no one complained about that last time I made them. I am very tempted to play with this recipe some more - perhaps toast the almonds (or even use another nut), reduce the sugar, or maybe try beating the eggs whites (something it seems is done in every other recipe for Brutti ma buoni).

Belli et Brutti
(Adapted from Bitter Almonds by Mary Taylor Simeti & Maria Grammatico)

1 lb whole blanched almonds
1 lb sugar (2 1/4 cups)
about 2 1/2 large egg whites (3 egg whites less 1 tablespoon)
1 tbs honey
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp baking powder
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grind the almonds and sugar together in the food processor until the almonds are fairly consistent in size (I did this in two batches). Place all ingredients in the mixer bowl and beat on low speed using paddle until the dough comes together. Use a tablespoon to scoop out pieces of dough (or pinch them off with your fingers). You want them to be roughly shaped and kind of spikey. Place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet about an inch apart and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. I had planned to bake two sheets at a time, so my racks were adjusted so that the oven was divided in thirds. I ended up baking one sheet at a time, so I started them on top and then moved them to the bottom rack halfway through the cooking time - they were nicely browned on both the peaks of the tops and on the bottoms. Dust with powdered sugar and remove to racks to cool. Makes 3 to 4 dozen.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Chocolate Aggies

Page 213 in the old book / page 239 in the new book

No drama this week - in the making or the eating. These cookies were simple to make and very, very good. They're moist, chewy, and perhaps most importantly - chocolate.

I can't recall if I've made these before, but they certainly are a familiar cookie. You'll find similar recipes on the net under the names "Chocolate Crinkle Cookies" and "Chocolate Snowflake Cookies". Maida's name for these cookies puzzled me and I hunted around to see if other cookies were known as "Aggies", but as near as I can tell the only recipe out there with this name is Maida's own. There are two other meanings of the word: students of an agricultural college or agate marbles. I'm guessing it's the marbles that inspired the name of these cookies. As you see them in the photo above they don't much look like agate marbles, but before baking I suppose they did.

In case you're not already familiar with these cookies, what gives them their distinctive look is a coating of powdered sugar that is applied before baking. When baked, the cookies split open and spread in a way that clearly inspired their other monikers - crinkles and snowflakes.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I love chocolate brownies and that’s exactly what this cookie tastes like. The sweetness of the powdered sugar topping was an added treat. The cookie had walnuts inside which added to the fudgie brownie taste. Rating - 5.0"

Laura: "Chocolate with a dusting of powdered sugar sweetness! Deliciously moist and chocolatey. Very yummy cookies! Rating - 4.5"

Denny: "Very nice little cookie with maybe just a little too much powdered sugar. Not much to say about it, but it was good. Rating - 4.0"

Drucie: "Not only are they pretty to look at, but they are chocolatey and chewy as well. I'm not a fan of nuts in cookies, so I found the walnuts a little distracting. Rating - 4.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.5

Next week - Chocolate Oatmeal Crispies

Nutrition Facts