Monday, March 06, 2006

Heart Problems

I received Nancy Baggett's The All-American Cookie Book as a bridal shower gift, and it quickly became a favorite. The book is full of tempting recipes, entertaining cookie lore, and mouth-watering color photos. The first chapter, "How to Make Great Cookies Every Single Time," has proven invaluable, and the first recipe I tried (called "Best-Ever Snickerdoodles") made what are quite possibly the most delicious cookies I've ever tasted.

Sadly, I've come to realize that even big-money cookbooks like Baggett's are not without flaws, some of them major. DH has never stopped ridiculing me for trying what was supposedly the first brownie recipe in America. The resulting brownies (called "Lowney's Brownies" in the book) were so bad that after tasting them we actually threw the entire batch away. (Call me crazy, but I think that if you're going to publish a lousy recipe for purely historical reasons, you should include some kind of warning.)

I came across another blooper last Thursday, when I tried to prepare "Chocolate Hearts" for an oneg shabbat at a friend's house. The recipe is unusual: it makes use of confectioner's sugar in place of granulated sugar and flour and uses egg whites instead of whole eggs for something of a cross between meringues and rolled cookies. An interesting idea in principle, but when I combined the ingredients, the resulting "dough" was roughly the consistency of slightly running frosting. After several stubborn attempts to roll it (resulting in a pile of chocolatey wax paper and a minor tantrum), I dumped in the rest of the bag of confectioner's sugar and managed to turn what remained of my batter into a small batch of brittle, overly sweet brown hearts covered with white powder. I read the recipe over and over, trying to figure out what I'd done wrong, to no avail. I'd followed the directions to the letter.

The next morning, I awoke with a new sense of clarity. Yet again, I had been led astray by my persistant belief in the infallibility of cookbooks. Once I acknowledged that the recipe was wrong, the solution to my troubles became instantly clear: corn starch! I didn't have any corn starch, though, so I used potato starch left over from last Pesach. To avoid the messy appearance of white on brown, I rolled the dough in cocoa powder and dipped the cookie cutter in cocoa between uses. For the product of so many compromises, my little cookies were astonishingly good, if I do say so myself. When you first bite into them, they're soft, rich and chocolatey, like a brownie (not Lowney's), but then they melt in your mouth like cotton candy. I've decided to call my cookies "sweet nothings" because of this etherial quality, and because I made them with a one-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, so they came out very small:
chocolate heart
(They're not so blurry in real life -- I'm still learning how to use our new digital camera.)

Another great thing about these cookies is that they can be kosher for Passover if they are made with Passover confectioner's sugar or potato starch. They would also make nice additions to mishloach manot packages.

Here is the recipe. Feel free to modify it -- I'm not infallible.

Sweet Nothings

Yield: About 50 1-inch cookies

3 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken up or coarsely chopped
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened American-style cocoa powder, plus more for rolling.
1/3 cup corn or potato starch (plus more, if needed)
1/3 cup egg whites (about 3 large eggs) at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease several baking sheets.*

In a small, microwave-safe bowl, microwave the chocolate for 1 minute. Stir well. Microwave for an additional 30 seconds, stir, and repeat until the chocolate is mostly melted, then let the residual heat finish the job. (Alternatively, in a small, heavy saucepan, melt the chocolate over low heat, stirring frequently; be very careful not to burn. Immediately remove from heat.) Let cool to warm.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on low speed, beat together the chocolate, about one-third of the powdered sugar, the cocoa powder, and the starch until well blended. Gradually add about one-third of the egg whites and beat until evenly incorporated. Add another one-third of the powdered sugar, then another one-third of the egg whites, and beat until smooth. Repeat the process, adding the remaining one-third of the powdered sugar, then the remaining one-third of the egg whites, and the vanilla. Increase the speed to high and beat for 2 minutes more, or until very smooth and well blended. Let the dough stand for 5 minutes to allow the egg whites to become more fully absorbed. At this point, if the dough seems too sticky, beat in a bit more corn or potato starch. If it seems too crumbly, beat in a little bit of water.

Set aside several tablespoons of cocoa powder on a plate or paper towel. Dust hands lightly with the cocoa. Roll about one third of the dough in the cocoa powder, then roll it between hands so that it forms a ball. Place between two sheets of wax paper and roll to about 1/4 inch thick. Peel off the top sheet of wax paper. Using a one inch heart-shaped cookie cutter,** cut out the cookies, dipping the cutter into cocoa powder between uses. Using a metal spatula or paring knife, carefully transfer the cookies to the baking sheets. Reroll any dough scraps. Continue cutting out the cookies until all the dough is used.

Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, in the middle of the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until dry on the surface but soft in the centers when lightly pressed. Slide the cookies onto a wire rack. Let stand until completely cooled.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

*I used parchment paper in accordance with Baggett's instructions, but some of the cookies stuck. Greasing the sheets might work better.
** Baggett calls for a 2 or 2 1/4 inch heart-shaped cutter. You can use any shape, of course, but I don't recommend using anything larger than two or three inches, since the dough is very delicate and large cookies have a greater chance of breaking while being removed from cookie sheet.


(Cross-posted to Kosherblog.)

26 comments:

Mar Gavriel said...

Sadly, I've come to realize that even big-money cookbooks like Baggett's are not without flaws, some of them major.

Ah, but a flawed cookbook may have had a perfect Vorlage, which became, um, "maculated" in the process of transmission. Just ask Rabbi Prof. Halivni!

:-) [What, I can't have a little fun in Adhor?]

elf said...

I'm not convinced that there was ever a single Ur-Cookie Book. There were just lots of recipe variants that were compiled in a single volume. In fact, the "chocolate heart" recipe was originally a recipe for oatmeal cookies, but it was corrupted beyond recognition.

Mar Gavriel said...
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Mar Gavriel said...

Yes, and most of the recipe variants seem to have been intended literally by their original authors. It is only the redactor of the volume who put them together into an allegory. (I think that there is evidence that the book was intended as an allegory from the moment of its final compilation. After all, in the Old Greek translation, the so-called "A-Text", the word "M&M"s is tranlated as pistis, "faith", showing that the translator either misread "M&M" as "emūnā", or that [s]he was already reading the work as an allegory.) This is cogently argued in the article Allegorien in dem Kuchbuch, in the Festschrift for H. Ben-Hammedhatha, Stuttgart, 1992.

And where is your evidence that the "chocolate heart" recipe was originally a recipe for oatmeal cookies? As a conscientious (hic!) scholar, I can't just accept assertions without evidence! (Yet after three more beers, I'll probably be willing to believe anything.)

debka_notion said...

The chocolate heart cookies were likely to be derived from an oatmeal cookie original base as there is a manuscript with similar wording and three of the same ingredients in a folio of oatmeal cookie recipes for Valentine's day found 5 years ago in a cave in the middle of the Great Western Desert. Much of the text is smudged beyond understanding, and half the ingredients are covered with an unremovable glob of cookie dough, but the recipe clearly mentions cocoa powder, sugar and eggs.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...
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Tim said...

As a commentary to assist the poor goyim to understand and try the recipe, what's "American-style cocoa powder"? How does it differ from European or Downunder cocoa?

Mar Gavriel said...

Oy! I used italics, instead of quotation marks, to refer to an article! Now my post is posul for use as a mezuzo. I'll need to take my correcting knife, and scratch out the relevant words, and all subsequent words in the post, and then re-write them all in order.(Safrus reference.)

elf said...

Gavriel: Have another beer.

Debka: Yes, that's it exactly! (In other words, thank you for answering that question for me. I really have to get back to studying.)

Tim asked: what's "American-style cocoa powder"?

"American-style" cocoa is not alkalized. "Dutch" or European cocoa is alkalized, which gives it a darker color and slightly different flavor.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

«waves to the parody me»

«and then eats the manuscripts»

Lipman said...

Uh, may I ask what else was in those cookies...?

Lipman said...

After lerning the comments, the picture doesn't look that blorred anymore.

Lipman said...

blurred

elf said...

Uh, may I ask what else was in those cookies...?

Whatever the mysterious ingredient is, it doesn't seem to have affected Kosherblog readers. (An alternative hypothesis: People who read my blog are just wackos.)

Rymenhild said...

Flour-free cookies! Flour-free cookies! Elf, you're my hero. Purim's in five days, I have to make shalach manos, and I have a friend with a wheat allergy.

Rymenhild said...

Additionally, the urge to recreate the ur-cookie recipe is flawed in execution. Cookies recreated from evidence in later recensions of the recipes may never have been eaten by actual audiences. We as scholars should study the reception history of cookies; therefore, we should limit our research to study of those cookie recipes that have been recorded in the surviving manuscripts.

Mar Gavriel said...

therefore, we should limit our research to study of those cookie recipes that have been recorded in the surviving manuscripts.

But shouldn't we count archaeological evidence, and not just literary evidence? Certainly, if we find an actual cookie, fossilized though it be, from an earlier period, we should include that in our research. (Or rather, we should have people trained in archaeology-- not textualists like me-- analyze them for us, and then we can make use of their analysis.)

fleurdelis28 said...

Cookies recreated from evidence in later recensions of the recipes may never have been eaten by actual audiences.

If you did manage to recreate a cookie eaten by an actual ancient audience, that would be truly mind-blowing.

(Just imagine: "Medievalist reconstructs last cookie that Julius Caesar ate!")

Mar Gavriel said...

(Just imagine: "Medievalist reconstructs last cookie that Julius Caesar ate!")

Why a mediaevalist? Wouldn't an historian of classical antiquity be more likely to reconstruct Julius Caesar's cookies than a mediaevalist?

Rymenhild said...

Why a mediaevalist? Wouldn't an historian of classical antiquity be more likely to reconstruct Julius Caesar's cookies than a mediaevalist?

Oh, certainly -- except that, as Fleurdelis knows, I am not a historian of classical antiquity. In any case, the hypothesized ur-text does not survive in a classical document, so the manuscripts that would have preserved the recipe must have been medieval.

elf said...

Rymenhild said:
you're my hero. Purim's in five days, I have to make shalach manos, and I have a friend with a wheat allergy.

Oh goody! I love allergies -- they give me lots of opportunities for creativity in the kitchen. I made these cookies because I have a friend with celiac disease. Let me know if you want any more wheat-free dessert recipes ;-) (Also, chocolate and fruit are nice in mishloach manot packages.)

Cookies recreated from evidence in later recensions of the recipes may never have been eaten by actual audiences.

Spoiler!

elf said...

...Also consider store-bought meringues, if you don't feel like baking, and hamentaschen made from rice flour if you do.

Mar Gavriel said...

Why sweet? I always send savory in fulfillment of the mitzvôth of mishlôaH monôth and mattonôth lo'evyônim: Pieces of chicken, vegetables, starchy thing (kugel or bread, perhaps freedom fries).

elf said...

I hope people know that your mishloach manot have to be refrigerated...

Mar Gavriel said...

Ah, but is there a vov in משלוח?

(None in the reports of the Kether, but yes in most of the inferior MSS used today.)

elf said...

l'mai nafka mina?