I'm here today to tell you that you really, really, really need to buy Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, the new book by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.
Of course, to offer full disclosure, I should probably tell you first that I am hopelessly and madly in love with these two adorable NYC-based bakers.
There are a few reasons why:
1. Their two bakeries, Baked, in Brooklyn and South Carolina, respectively, are to die for.
2. Their first book, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking is not only an essential baking tool full of some of the best recipes I've ever tried, but it's beautiful and fun to look at too.
3. They're both adorable, talented, and have a great sense of humor--and can wax philosophical about the joys of crumb cake and peanut butter-chocolate combos like nobody I've ever met.
4. Oh, and Porkchop approves:
Now, if you're not already halfway in love with them already, buy the new book and you will be. It's the perfect follow-up to their bestselling first book, this time featuring classics from all around America. Featuring gorgeous pictures and plenty of baked good lore, this one is full of treasures that you'll be delighted to discover.
Here's my first discovery from the book, the cover recipe for Salt-N-Pepper Sandwich cookies. I first heard about these babies on Good Food, and have been intrigued ever since. Happily, they were worth the wait: though mine were more free-form in terms of the final look, I made mine with fancy Cherry Almond Pistachio sea salt and brought them to the Jill Labieniec artist reception at my store, and they disappeared in record time.
Salt-N-Pepper Sandwich Cookies
Adapted from Baked Explorations
Ingredients for the cookies
- 3 1/2 cups flour
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel or fancy sea salt (I used Secret Stash Sea Salt)
- 2 teaspoons white pepper
- 1/4 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes, cool but not cold
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 ounces good quality dark chocolate, melted
Ingredients for filling
- 5 ounces vegetable shortening, room temperature
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks, at room temperature
- 3 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon light rum (I didn't use this and it came out fine)
- In a large bowl, sift together flour, salt, fleur de sel, pepper, and cocoa powder. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, and add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add the vanilla and melted chocolate and beat until uniform in color. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat again shortly, until incorporated.
- Add half of the dry ingredients and beat for 15 seconds. Again, scrape down the bowl and give it a quick second mix to incorporated.
- Loosely shape the dough into two balls, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (note: I did make some right away, and while the texture wasn't as good they tasted fine).
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Unwrap one ball of dough and divide into two equal portions. Place the first portion on a lightly flour-dusted surface and return the other half to the fridge.
- Use your hands to knead the dough until pliable. The original recipe calls for rolling it into a disc (to use cookie cutters) but I actually rolled it into a log to slice and bake my cookies. If you want to do it their way, use a 2-inch round cookie cutter to create the tops and bottoms, and transfer to your waiting baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch of space around each cookie. If you want to go my route, roll the dough into a log and slice 1/2 inch thick slices, using your hands to make them pleasingly round if the dough gets too soft, and place on the baking sheet.
- Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with a little extra fancy salt, and then bake them for 10-12 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking time. The tops of the cookies will look dry and may have small cracks on top--don't worry, it's ok. Place the baking sheets on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes, and then use a spatula to transfer the cookies to racks to cool completely.
- While they cool, make up your filling. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the shortening and butter until lump-free and smooth. Add the sugar in three parts, mixing each part until just combined. Add the salt, vanilla, and rum and beat again for 10 seconds. The filling should be thick, but spreadable (like Oreo filling). If it is too thick, add a drop or two of water as needed. If the mixture is too thin, add a little extra confectioners' sugar.
- Assemble the cookies. Use a pastry bag or small spoon (I used a small knife) to spread a dab of filling onto the flat (bottom) side of a cookie. Place another cookie, flat side down, on top. Press down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edges of the cookie. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Let them sit for about 15 minutes before serving. Store the cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to three days.