“Once a year, at Christmastime, I make the best cookies in the world. It very nearly kills me.”
So go the opening lines to Celia Barbour’s article in the December issue of Gourmet. As I read this, I think, “Now, here is something I can relate to!” Not that I necessarily would be so bold as to say I make the best cookies in the world (though I do think they’re pretty damn good), but masochistic tendencies surrounding holiday baking does resonate with me. Last year I mailed out ten packages of cookies… this is a lot of cookies. Barbour is right, by the third late night hunched over the kitchen table, liberally dusted with flour, you begin to question your sanity. After a while, it becomes clear: these people do not appreciate your magnificent confections, for they will never understand even an inkling of the blood, sweat, and tears you poured into these delicious, sugary morsels. But, Barbour puts it perfectly when she writes: “You can’t very well accompany a gift of homemade cookies with the message, ‘I slaved for three nights over these. I cried while baking them. Please—just like them.’”
For the moral of this story, which Barbour puts far more eloquently than I, you’ll have to read this month’s Gourmet. What I’m actually interested in are these magnificent spoon cookies that Barbour makes: “You really have to wait,” says Barbour. “After a couple of days, the cookies’ texture becomes lovely and melting. Earlier, they are good, but later, they’re transcendent. Honest.” I have never read a cookie recipe that suggested I wait two days before consuming, but this seemed a small price to pay for transcendence. As for the recipe, it is startlingly easy. With no special ingredients required, I decided to give these a try; if they are even half as magnificent and easy as they sound, maybe my dear friends and family will get to experience a small bite of heaven this year.
I followed the recipe diligently, carefully browning my butter and even waiting the requisite two days (of course I cheated and ate a couple before that). I spent far too much time mushing crumbly, buttery batter into a small antique spoon and using a tiny plastic spatula to spread cran-raspberry jam onto delicate brown ovals. Two days later, I have to admit… I am not that impressed. They are, indeed, quite melting, not unlike the texture of a Russian tea cookie. But, I have never been particularly impressed by fragile cookie dough, since they do not survive a trip across the country via US post, and most of my friends live in far flung places.
Of course, these are not my cookies; I do not and cannot make them as well as someone who has perfected the recipe. Perhaps I didn’t brown my butter long enough. Maybe they do taste best with half strawberry and half cherry preserves, as the recipe suggests. Personally, I found them a bit too sweet, even with the tartness of the cranberry filling. Also, I remembered why I never make sandwich cookies. They always leave me feeling cheated: After putting in the effort to make countless cookies, my final product is always half of what a started with.
However, I did discover that these spoon cookies are quite delicious when filled with a layer of dark chocolate ganache. They’re like tiny Milano cookies, but with a softer texture. That’s when I realized, I should have had this cookie’s number the first time I read the recipe. How can anything be truly transcendent without chocolate?
From Gourmet, December 2005
- 2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/8 teaspoon salt, slightly rounded
- 1/3 cup fruit preserves (your choice) OR 1/3 cup chocolate ganache (Alicia’s choice)
Fill kitchen sink with about 2 inches of cold water. Melt butter in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until butter turns golden with a nutlike fragrance and flecks on bottom of pan turn a rich caramel brown, 10 to 12 minutes. (Butter will initially foam, then dissipate. A thicker foam will appear and cover the surface just before butter begins to brown; stir more frequently toward end of cooking.) Place pan in sink to stop cooking, then cool, stirring frequently, until butter starts to look opaque, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from sink and stir in sugar and vanilla.
Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and stir into butter mixture until a dough forms. Shape into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and let stand at cool room temperature 1 to 2 hours (to allow flavors to develop).
Form and bake cookies:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.
Press a piece of dough into bowl of teaspoon, flattening top, then slide out and place, flat side down, on an ungreased baking sheet. (Dough will feel crumbly, but will become cohesive when pressed.) Continue forming cookies and arranging on sheet. Bake cookies until just pale golden, 8 to 15 minutes. Cool cookies on sheet on a rack 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to rack and cool completely, about 30 minutes.
While cookies cool, heat preserves in a small saucepan over low heat until just runny, then pour through a sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on solids, and cool completely.
Spread the flat side of a cookie with a thin layer of preserves. Sandwich with flat side of another cookie. Continue with remaining cookies and preserves, then let stand until set, about 45 minutes. Transfer cookies to an airtight container and wait 2 days before eating.
• Dough can be made 12 hours before baking and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature to soften slightly before forming cookies, about 30 minutes.
• Cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks.
Makes about 30 sandwich cookies.