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Entries in Cookies (171)

Monday
Jul062009

Under My Thumb: A Loving Look at the Vegan Thumbprint Cookie

Vegan Apricot Thumbprint from Zoka
Can we talk about vegan thumbprint cookies for a moment?

These nubbly little jam-filled treats are a very popular vegan choice in Seattle (possibly beyond?). They've been available at Flying Apron (and since they wholesale, also at coffee shops and grocery stores which carry their pastries too) for years, but now there are several other shops and bakeries which also carry variations on this vegan cookie. What accounts for this cookie's popularity in vegan form, though?

Well, for one thing, they're an easy cookie to veganize without sacrificing any flavor. Though many classic recipes for thumbprint cookies include butter, many also use oil; so really, in some cases these cookies are inherently vegan. And to speak specifically to their popularity in the Northwest, they're a dense, oaty cookie, and Seattleites do tend to love those vaguely healthy tasting, granola-y treats.

For me, these cookies have been sort of a gateway drug into the world of vegan confectionery: they're dense and chewy and oaty; sweet but not cloying--the perfect type of cookie to eat for breakfast. Here is just a sampling of some that I've known and loved around town: 


Vegan Apricot Thumbprint from Zoka
The vegan thumbprints at Zoka Coffee are generously sized, generously dolloped with jam (apricot and I believe raspberry), and are wonderfully nutty.
The thumbprints at Flying Apron bakery (not pictured) are not only vegan but gluten-free too; they are made with a mixture of rice and garbanzo flour which gives them a nice flavor complexity; they're finished with a sweet apricot jam.

Vegan Thumbprint cookies
The vegan thumbprint cookies at Whole Foods in Seattle are wonderfully spiced and have a nice, slightly crunchy oaty texture. 

 

Vegan Thumbprint Cookie

The vegan thumbprints at PCC in Seattle are the chewiest of the lot, but plenty dense and flavorful--I especially love these ones for breakfast.


Want to make your own vegan thumbprint cookies? Here are just a few good-looking recipes online:

Do you have a great recipe to share or know of a good spot for vegan thumbprints not mentioned here? Leave a comment!

 

Monday
Mar092009

Sugar Crash: An Unusual Introduction to the Cowboy Cookie

Cookie Sandwich
Sometimes a new baked good just comes crashing into your life--full throttle, no apologies, no turning back.

The Cowboy Cookie was such a treat for us--literally.

You see, not so long ago, a car crashed into the house neighboring the CakeSpy Headquarters. No, really. See?
Car Crash!
It crashed right into the kitchen, where said neighbor happened to be at the time of the crash--in the middle of mixing up some cookie batter.
Dough ballsDough
Well, needless to say their oven was not OK, so we found ourselves in the unique position of having inherited a batch of cookie dough, all ready to bake. And so preheat the oven we did, and about half an hour later, we had a fresh batch of cookies. What resulted was a mysterious, yet delicious, cookie. They had oats, but couldn't quite be called an oatmeal cookie; they had chocolate chips, and yet we wouldn't quite call them a chocolate chip cookie. And did we detect a pecan or two?
Cookies
Turns out, they're called Cowboy Cookies--and with their dramatic entrance, they've certainly lassoed our hearts--and with an extra dab of chocolate frosting in between, they're bound to corral the affections of just about any cookie lover.

Stack of cookies
There are a number of varieties of the Cowboy Cookie to be found online, and they're certainly an easy one to personalize to taste; but in case you're curious, this recipe that we found on Martha Stewart seemed very close to the ones that we had:

Cowboy Cookies

  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch chunks (1 cup)
  • 3 ounces (3/4 cup) pecan halves
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
Directions

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat baking sheets with cooking spray, line with parchment, and spray parchment. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder into a medium bowl.
Beat butter and sugars with a mixer on medium-high until pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
Reduce speed to low, and slowly add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated. Beat in oats, chocolate, pecans, and coconut until combined. (Dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop or a small spoon, drop dough onto baking sheets, spacing 3 inches apart.
Bake until edges of cookies begin to brown, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer baking sheets to wire rack, and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks. Let cool. (Cookies can be stored up to 3 days.)

 

Thursday
Feb262009

Short But Sweet: A Salute to Shortbread

SHORTBREAD!
Shortbread is certainly one of life's small pleasures: crispy, tantalizingly buttery, and when done right, the perfect combination of sweet and slightly salty.

With only three main ingredients (flour, sugar and butter--with a dash of salt for good measure)--traditional shortbread isn't a complex thing, but we would be hard-pressed to call it simple food. Because certainly there is an art to mixing those ingredients, to yielding the elusively perfect, buttery crumb.
But what else lies beneath this humble cookie? We took some time to think about various aspects of the cookie--here's what we discovered.
First off, where does the cookie come from?

As Historic-UK.com informs us, the story of shortbread begins with the medieval biscuit ("twice-baked"), wherein leftover bread dough was baked a second time to form a type of rusk--this is to say, if you picture a family tree of cookies, this would mean that shortbread, rusks and biscotti all share some relatives.
While by some accounts they existed as far back as the 12th century in Britain, it seems to us that it is truly Scotland where shortbread as we know it was developed: it is here that gradually the yeast began to be replaced with butter, and oat flour, which were some of their agricultural staples. These "short" bread cookies were a fancy dessert, reserved for the wealthy and for special occasions. And certainly their popularity was bolstered by the fact that in the 16th Century, they are said to have been a favorite of Mary, Queen of Scots (she liked a variation which included caraway seeds, in case you were interested).

Dipped Shortbread at Au Bon Pain, Penn Station
Why are they called "short"?
It's all about the butter, baby! According to Everything You Pretend to Know about Food and Are Afraid Someone Will Ask, which is like, our favorite book ever,
short pastry is a nonyeast pastry that has a high ratio of butter to flour. Short pastries bake up crumbly rather than chewy and tend to keep well, owing to their high fat content.
What is the proper shape for a traditional shortbread cookie?
We've seen them round, rectangular, diamond-shaped, and cut into wedges from a larger round--so what gives? Is there a proper shape for a traditional shortbread cookie? Once again according to Historic-UK.com,
Shortbread is traditionally formed into one of three shapes: one large circle divided into segments ("Petticoat Tails"); individual round biscuits ("Shortbread Rounds"); or a thick rectangular slab cut into "fingers."

Of course, having taste-tested each of these traditional variations, we can report that while they may differ in look, each shape is delicious.
Dog Portrait Cookies
What is the best shortbread cookie recipe?
These days, shortbread recipes are available in a dizzying array of flavors and variations: and from chocolate peanut butter to gorgeously decorated chocolate shortbread (above, photo c/o Whipped Bakeshop) to Earl Grey to cherry almond to even lavender vegan variations, we have enjoyed many of them. But moreover, we love this simple, classic recipe, which is a wonderful springboard for variations (note: though it can be made into round cookies rather than a big round, it is a fragile dough so may be harder to handle in that way).


Scottish shortbread in a pie tinShortbread
Classic Shortbread
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 300°F. Lightly butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan (we couldn't find ours so used a pie plate--it worked just fine!). Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add 1/2 cup butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Gather dough together and form into ball; flatten into disk. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 1/2-inch-thick round. Transfer round to prepared pan. Using fingers, press dough evenly over bottom to edges of pan. Using tip of small sharp knife, score dough into 8 equal triangles, then pierce all over with fork. Bake until shortbread is cooked through and pale golden, about 45 minutes.

 

Using tip of sharp knife, cut warm shortbread into triangles along scored lines. Run knife around shortbread to loosen. Cool in pan at least 30 minutes. Using spatula, carefully remove shortbread from pan.

Can be made 1 day ahead. Store shortbread airtight in single layer at room temperature.

 

Monday
Feb232009

Cakespy Undercover: Macaron Fever at Honoré in Seattle

Macarons from Honore, photo c/o Kim
Seeking Parisian-style macarons in Seattle? We'd been hearing some great things about Honoré in Ballard, so recently our Cake Gumshoe Kim went to see for herself. Here are her thoughts:

I wanted some macaroons--so I went to Honoré and bought 5! I've now tested all the flavors I got. Granted, these are the first macaroons I've ever had so I don't have much to compare them to, but I have to say they were amazing! They were everything I hoped they would be.
Macarons from Honore, photo c/o KimMacarons from Honore, photo c/o Kim
I chose lavender, coffee, pistachio and another one which I think was chocolate/coconut/salted caramel. They had about 10 flavors in all and i wished I could have got one of each, but unfortunately I was on a budget! I'm a sucker for all things lavender flavored - I had a feeling those would be my favorite so I bought two. I was right! The lavender flavor was just right, they were topped with little flowers, and had a delicious creamy chocolate filling which I didn't expect. The coffee one had a rich coffee flavor which was very satisfying. The pistachio flavor was very nutty and tasted just like pistachios... except sweet! Lastly, I finished off the mysterious chocolate/coconut/salted caramel this morning. It was so good! I could definitely taste the salted caramel, and there were little bits of coconut inside the cookie.

So to sum it up - they were all good, and all different. I want to go back and try more flavors!

On another note about Honoré's general awesomeness - the girl working the counter was so nice. She listed off all 10 or so macaroon flavors to me, sweetly, without an eye roll in sight! We also got a croissant which was very good, and they had a bunch of other pastries that looked really yummy.

Honoré is open Wed.–Sun.; 1413 NW 70th St.; 206.706.4035.

 

Honoré Artisan Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

Wednesday
Jan072009

Going Dutch: Say Hallo to the Jan Hagel

Jan Hagel cookies
What can we say about our love affair with Jan Hagel? It just sort of...happened. OK, truth be told, we'd just poured 2 cups of flour into a bowl to make banana bread and realized we had no bananas. After scouring our recipe books for another recipe that might start out with the same amount of flour, we decided to try the Jan Hagel from our beloved Betty Crocker's Cooky Book.

As Betty informs us, the Jan Hagel is a cooky of Dutch origin; as the internet informs us, they are also sometimes known as Hollanders, Janhagels, Dutch Almond Cookies, Dutch Hail or Sugar Hail Cookies.
But what may have started out as a fluke has blossomed into an obsession: these cookies, which are thin, crunchy, and very buttery, are also really, really good. But what gives with the name?
As we found out through one site, A Cookie for Every Country, Jan Hagel (yan HAH-ghle) "is Dutch for ‘an unruly mob’ or ‘rabble,’ with hagel in the sense of ‘multitude’ or ‘swarm.’ In the cookie, the rock sugar resembles hail." Another site backs up the hail theory, citing that Jan Hagel is merely translated "John Hail". The recipe we used didn't call for rock sugar, but maybe those little bits of nut could stand in for the "hail"? Also, though we can't find a reason behind it, there is another legend which was interesting, which is that "Jan Hagels are fed to homesick little children in heaven upon their arrival at St. Peter's Gate".
Who could blame the little lost souls--we wouldn't want to leave these cookies behind, either.

Jan Hagel Cookies
Here's the recipe:
  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/2 cup very finely chopped walnuts (we used a mix of walnuts, almonds and cashews--it was delicious)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a jelly roll pan, 15 x 10 x 1 or so. Mix butter, sugar and egg yolk. Measure flour by dipping method or by sifting. Blend flour and cinnamon; stir into butter mixture. Pat into pan. Beat water and egg white until frothy; brush over dough; sprinkle with nuts. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Cut immediately into finger-like strips. Makes 50 3 x 1 inch strips.

 

Friday
Dec262008

Bananarama: Chocolate Frosted Banana Shortbread Cookies

Chocolate topped banana shortbread
'Twas the day after Christmas, 

And when we did rise,
Inside the kitchen
Was an awful surprise:
Not a cookie remained; 
The plates were all bare
So we pushed up our sleeves
And made cookies to share.
It's true; when we woke up this morning, we had the horrific realization that all of our Christmas cookies had been eaten. No, seriously. and the only sources of sweetness in the house were an overripe banana and some leftover chocolate frosting. Getting a bit crafty, we altered a classic old fashioned sugar cookie recipe by upping the butter and adding aforementioned banana to the batter; once out of the oven, we topped the cookies with a dollop of chocolate frosting for a delectable bit of added richness. The finished product was a moist, cakey, shortbready cookie which tasted even better as they cooled and the banana flavor developed. We decorated a couple like anthropomorphic Hostess cupcakes, for no particular reason, but aren't they kinda cute? What a sweet and unexpected post-Christmas miracle.

Chocolate-topped Banana shortbread cookiesChocolate-topped Banana shortbread cookies
Here's how to make 'em:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into chunks
  • 1 super-ripe banana (same ripeness you'd use for banana bread), cut into chunks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl stir together the butter, 1 cup of the sugar, the egg, banana and the vanilla. Into the bowl sift together the flour, the baking soda, and the salt and stir the mixture until it forms a dough. Chill the dough, covered, for at least 2 hours or overnight (Note: we only let ours cool for about 30 minutes; your finished cookies would probably be smoother and better-looking if you allowed the dough to cool longer, but try telling that to the cookie-hungry masses.)

 

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Roll rounded tablespoons of the dough into balls, and arrange them 3 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheets. Either leave as balls for fat cookies, or use cookie cutters or flatten slightly for cookies with a more uniform thickness. Bake the cookies in batches in the middle of the oven for 8 to 12 minutes, or until they are pale golden. Transfer the cookies to racks and let them cool. The cookies keep in an airtight container for 1 week.

 

Monday
Dec222008

The True Meaning of Christmas (Cookies, That Is)

Christmas cookies
What is a Christmas cookie?

Is this a trick question? Perhaps.

Cookie ShotsChristmas Cookies
On the one hand, you may think that a Christmas cookie is one that you make (and eat) around Christmastime. But is that all there is to it? Because certainly Christmas cookies aren't just a result of everyday recipes dressed up with red and green sprinkles or dye, are they? It seems to us that certain cookies, while available at other times of year, proliferate around the holiday season--spritz cookies, gingerbread, cutout sugar cookies, for instance. In addition, how is it that nearly every family has a unique collection of cookies--ranging from bonbons to melt-in-your-mouth meringues to Rum balls--that only come out around the holidays?


Christmas cookies from our neighbors
To discover the true meaning of Christmas (cookies), we had to look back--way back--in time. Now, it's no secret that sweets have been part of holiday rituals since long before Christmas was a declared a holiday (which was in 1870, in case you were wondering). But according to Foodtimeline.org, it was a combination of Eastern spices and European flair that contributed to the cookie's success:
Gingerbread Men
Ancient cooks prepared sweet baked goods to mark significant occasions. Many of these recipes and ingredients (cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, almonds, dried fruits etc.) were introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages. They were highly prized and quickly incorporated into European baked goods. Christmas cookies, as we know them today, trace their roots to these Medieval European recipes. Dutch and German settlers introduced cookie cutters, decorative molds, and festive holiday decorations to America. German lebkuchen (gingerbread) was probably the first cake/cookie traditionally associated with Christmas.
Naturally, cookies lend themselves very nicely to cookie cutters, which we would surmise is one reason why they tended to stick around as a Christmas tradition--not to mention that they have a long shelf life, travel well, and are made in larger batches that imply bounty (that is to say, even though 24 cookies and one cake may have the same surface mass, the number of items can fool us into feeling as if there is more to share).
Of course, the article goes on to state that sugar cookie type recipes descended from English traditions; perhaps their trip over the Atlantic was the inspiration for Animal Crackers, which were originally designed as Christmas ornaments
The best sugar cookies...EVER
While the tradition of Christmas cookies may have its roots in Medieval Europe, and while we may associate some cookies with the holidays more than others, it's also true that Christmas cookie recipes today come from all over the world--it would not be unusual to see German Lebkuchen, Scottish Shortbread, Italian Pizzelles and all-American Cornflake wreaths sharing the same plate. Why so? Well, we surmise that it's an illustration of evolution--as people immigrated and adapted, naturally they would want to honor their culture's recipes with the Christmas cookie tradition. While this may blur the boundaries of what is a Christmas cookie and what is just a cookie, it certainly does make the variety and joy of discovery at holiday parties a whole lot more fun. 

Sugar SkatesChristmas cookies with matcha glaze by MPG
And of course, it makes us all better able to add a few more recipes to our arsenal--as well as experiment--each year, sometimes with delicious results

Bonbon Cookies in pink!
But what of the US tradition of leaving cookies for Santa, you may be asking? Well, to us, that one's easy--clearly, Santa (whoever he or she is) wants a midnight snack. Duh.


Want more?

  • For a by-country list of Christmas cookies, visit christmas-cookies.com (though we didn't recognize any of the US ones!)
  • For more information about Christmas cookies in history, visit The Food Timeline.

 

Friday
Dec052008

Hats Off: A Loving Look at Two Chapeau-Inspired Baked Goods

Napoleons Hat
It's a funny thing about hats. Some people can "do" hats--some most definitely cannot. The beret that looks jaunty and artistic on one may have a mushroom-head effect on another. The straw hat that looks so breezy on carefree on one person...well, you get the point. However, baked goods made to look like (or inspired by) hats seem to work a little bit more universally. Now, we could really go wild on this theme--from Pilgrims' Hats to Southern Belles to Nuns Habits, a lot of hat-pastry connections have been made over the years. But for now, let's just focus on two, with respective histories as rich as their sweet buttery cookie crusts:

Stop! Hamenstashen Time!
Hamentashen: These tricorner cookies are folded over on the top  so as to reveal just a small, alluring bit of the filling within, usually poppyseed, apricot or prune. Don't let those flavors put you off: really, they're very good, almost like a danish but with a cookie crust. As for the hat that inspired it all? According to Wikipedia, the name hamantash (המן־טאַש), is a reference to Haman, the villain of Purim, as described in the Book of Esther. Apparently, 

a likely source of the name is a corruption of the Yiddish word מאן־טאשן (montashn) or the German word mohntaschen, both meaning poppyseed-filled pouches; over time, this name was transformed to hamantashen, likely by association with Haman. In Israel, they are called אוזני המן (Oznei Haman), Hebrew for "Haman's ears" where children are taught these tasty pastries are the ears of Haman that fell off at his execution.
However, ears aren't necessarily the most appetizing cookie inspiration, which is probably why 
some Hebrew schools teach that Hamentashen are made in the shape of Haman's hat. There's even a song to go along with it (sung to the tune of "Carnival of Venice"):

My hat it has three corners.
Three corners has my hat.
And had it not three corners,
It wouldn't be my hat.

 

Napoleon Hat
Napoleonhattar (Napoleon's Hat): We first came across this cookie at local Swedish bakery Larsen's; while we can't say why the Swedes saw fit to name a cookie after the petite ruler's signature hat, we can guess that it dates back to their involvement in the Napoleonic Wars. More important than the roots though, is the joy that this cookie has brought to our lives. Larsen's version was fully covered on top, with an outer cookie crust and almond paste-innards that approached the chewy consistency that one might expect in the center of a coconut macaroon. As an added bonus, theirs was chocolate-dipped on the bottom for extra decadence. We located a recipe in the Sunset Magazine archives, but theirs more closely resembles Hamentashen (at least visually).

Recipe Links:
Hamentashen: You can find recipes at jewishappleseed.org or this one looks good too!


Napoleon's Hats: Does anyone have a good recipe for them? We could only find a few; you could try the one we found in Sunset Magazine, or you could try this one. We couldn't find a recipe for chocolate-dipped ones, but probably you could do it the same way you'd do chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons.

 

Monday
Nov172008

Peanutty Buddies: Chocolate Peanut Butter Shortbread Cookies from Peanut Butter and Co.

Chocolate peanut butter shortbread cookie stack
When Peanut Butter and Co., a cute little Greenwich Village cafe known for its incredible number of variations on the humble peanut butter sandwich, began distributing their peanut butters nationwide, we were thrilled. We love peanut butter. 


When it came to their book The Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook: Recipes from the World's Nuttiest Sandwich Shop though, we were a bit skeptical. Honestly, why bother with a cookbook when their stuff tastes so good just eaten directly from the jar? Yes, it's true--we're not above eating a spoonful of "Mighty Maple" (delightfully crunchy) or White Chocolate Wonderful (kind of like a white-chocolate Reese's cup, only all smooth and silky) right from their respective peanut butter jars.

But somewhere between spoonfuls, a glorious thought occurred: What if it tasted even better baked into something? 

And so we consulted the book, and settled on something simple to start: the peanut butter shortbread. While theirs calls for regular peanut butter, we upped the ante by using their Dark Chocolate Dreams variety. These cookies bake for a long time, which allows ample time for the aroma of peanut butter, chocolate, and cookie to permeate the entire house. This is not a bad smell to have permeate your house, by the way. The taste seemed to have three defined layers: upon first bite, one encountered the sandy, slightly salted, buttery bite of the shortbread; then, a moment later, there was the peanut butter; chasing it very closely, a finish of rich, dark chocolatiness. Oh, were they delicious. Here's our adaptation of the recipe:

  • 2 cups flour 
  • 2/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter (We used their "Dark Chocolate dreams" variety)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Their recipe says it yields 12 wedges of shortbread, but we did a combination of thinly rolled cookies and simple, small round cookies and got more like 24.

  1. Prehead the oven to 275. Either grease a 9-inch cake pan (if you want wedges) or just grease a regular cookie pan if you're a rule-breaker, like us.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour and salt and set aside.
  3. In a separate large bowl, use an electric mixer to combine the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and vanilla til fluffy. Continue mixing, adding the dry ingredients 1/2 cup at a time, until fully incorporated.
  4. (a.) If you want classic wedges, at this point press the dough into the prepared cake pan, using a knife to score the surface of the dough into 12 wedge-shaped pieces. Repeatedly press the tips of te tines of a fork around the outer edge of the shortbread, creating four concentric circles of dots. (b.) If you want to go your own way, roll them into little balls and then flatten them slightly (like at the top). We also rolled out a few and tried to use a cookie cutter, but the buttery nature of this dough didn't take to that so well. All the same, we did get a few cute Cuppie-cookies.
  5. Bake for 75 minutes (since we'd broken a rule, we checked it at 60 minutes and ultimately took them out at 65 minutes or so), or until shortbread is a pale golden color (since ours was brownish from the chocolate, we looked for a slight crispness around the edges). If in wedges, allow to cool for 1 hour before cutting. Store in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Cakespy Note: we should add that while the peanut butters are available online at ilovepeanutbutter.com, the shipping can get pricey; you might want to try your local supermarket. We found that they had them at our local gourmet supermarket in Seattle, so we can only assume they're around the rest of the US too!

Chocolate peanut butter Shortbread cookie

 

 

 

Friday
Nov072008

Cookies So Nice, They Baked Them Twice: Musings on Biscotti, Mandelbrot and More!

Chris made the cutest biscotti ever
(The mini biscotti pictured was made by ace Seattle Pastry Chef Chris Jarchow!)


What in the world is a twice-baked cookie?

 

To discover the real meaning of the twice-baked cookie, you've got to start with the biscuit. In terms of etymology, "biscuit" means "twice cooked"--and acording to John Ayto's book An A-Z of Food & Drink, "its name reflects the way in which it was once made. The originl biscuit was a small flat cake made of wheat flower, sugar, egg yolks, and perhaps a little yeast. It was intended for long keeping, so to dry it out it was returned to the oven for a while after the initial cooking process had finished". The signature hard texture and long shelf life has endeared the twice-baked cookie to seafaring voyagers, teething babies, and lends itself quite nicely to dunking in sweet wine.

In the United States, the term "biscuit" refers to something else these days, but the concept of a twice-baked cookie is still very much alive. To Americans, the most famous example is probably the Italian version, biscotti. It's arguable, but our theory for its preeminence is that it grew in popularity with the coffee-house revolution that hit the US in a big way, in which biscotti was a common food to be offered.

Interestingly enough however, many different cultures boast some variation on this biscuit--and so we've prepared a small primer on some of the twice-baked cookies out there for you. (Note: If you want to read more about it, check out this article too!).

 

Biscotti by the Italian Woman at the Table

Biscotti: While in Italy, biscotti is a kind of catch-all phrase for cookies, in North America, we think of it as a long, dry, hard twice-baked cookie with a curved top and flat bottom designed for dunking into wine or coffee. The name biscotti is derived from 'bis' meaning twice in Italian and 'cotto' meaning baked or cooked. Generally, what separates biscotti from other variations is that it frequently gets its fat solely from eggs and nuts--often it does not contain oil or butter. Of course, these days there are all sorts of variations, so this is not a hard-fast rule. Here's a link to a delicious recipe.

 

Beschuit met Muisjes
Beschuit met muisjes: In this Dutch version, which translates to "biscuits with little mice", a twice-baked bread not unlike the rusk (below) is characterized mostly by its garnish: according to Wikipedia,

They are spread with butter (or margarine) and the muisjes (lit. 'little mice') are sprinkled on top. These muisjes are sugared aniseed balls. They are sold in a mixture of two colours: White and pink. In 1990 a new mixture was introduced: white and blue, and it has become a custom, but not a universal one, that the latter (blue) are served when a boy is born, and the former (pink) for a girl. When a child is born in to the royal House of Orange, orange muisjes are sold.

 

 

Croquets de carcassonne (or biscotte): This is the french variation on biscotti; from what we could find, the major difference seems to be that biscotte contains butter (and plenty of it!). While we couldn't find the reasoning behind the name Croquets de carcassone, it did have a nice ring to it, so we included it! Here's a recipe.

 

Marla's Mandels
Mandelbrodt (also known as Mandelbread, Mondelbrodt, Mondel bread, and probably more that we've missed!): Never heard of it? No surprise. As our foodie crush Arthur Schwartz writes, "Isn't it ironic? It used to be that biscotti were explained as Italian mandelbread. These days, mandelbread is explained as Jewish biscotti." While mandelbrodt shares similarities to biscotti, it is not the same: unlike biscotti, which gets its fat primarily from eggs, mandelbrodt will generally contain oil as well. And while nuts are common in biscotti, they're a key ingredient in mandelbrodt, which literally translates to "almond bread". If you're curious, you can buy some via mail-order at marlasmandels.com (photo above); also, you can find a recipe here!

Lulu's Mondel Bread
Paxemadia (or biskota): In this Greek version, from what we can gather, the main variation here is with spices--one informative biscotti recipe posting suggests that you could make a biscotti recipe into the Greek variation by adding "a flavor mixture of 1/4 cup flour mixed into 1 tablespoon crushed coriander seed, 1 tablespoon crushed anise seeds, 2 tablespoons grated orange peel, 2 tablespoons grated lemon peel; and 1 1/2 cups chopped toasted walnuts."

Rusks: Like the term "biscuit", "rusk" seems to be more of a concept, with all sorts of different cultural variations, from long, slender versions to small rounds to toast-shaped versions. Like Mandelbrodt, the rusk differs from biscotti in that it will often contain an added fat--oil, or sometimes butter. One thing seems certain though: more than any other variation, the Rusk seems to be attached to seafaring culture--Swedish recipe books and John Ayto's book (referenced above) both refer to it as a cookie that accompanied naval officers and sailors on long voyages. Here's a recipe.

Sukhariki: The Russian term also seems to be a catch-all, referring to any type of crispy bread, from more crouton-esque variations to sweetened ones. Here's a hazelnut variation.
Zwieback
Zwieback: Per Wikipedia, the name comes from German zwei, meaning "two", and backen, meaning "to bake". This is the only variation in which we saw recipes that called for yeast, and indeed, this would be in keeping with it sometimes being referred to as "zwieback toast". Of course, this is not to be confused with Russian Mennonite Zwieback, which is more like a roll. More than any other variation, we associate this one as a baby's toothing snack. Most notably, however, we have to say, zwieback certainly takes the cake when it comes to cultural references. here are just a few:

  • In an episode of The Simpsons entitled "Homer the Smithers", the character Smithers remarks to his boss Mr. Burns, "...I've alphabetized your breakfast. You can start with the waffles, and work your way up to the zwieback."
  • In the 1991 classic film Doc Hollywood, when Ben Stone (Michael J. Fox) first arrives in Grady, nurse Packer tells him there is Zwieback and Vitamin C in the cabinet.
  • In "Dear Mildred", an episode of the TV series M*A*S*H, Radar O'Reilly compares his first days with Colonel Potter to visiting summers with his prim-and-proper aunt; "You can't dunk your zwieback in your Bosco."
  • In her song "Caving In", Kimya Dawson sings that she is "just a piece of zwieback toast getting soggy in a baby's aching mouth."

 

 

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