Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Back to class again for a new lesson—cookies!

Once again, I felt pretty secure about myself going into this—I have been making cookies and excellent cookies at that since I was 5.  OK—when I was 5 I didn’t do much more than eat the batter, but maybe 12?  In any event, I have made a lot of cookies in my day.  We had in my home-town a new enclosed shopping mall with a Mrs. Field’s cookies in it (and all the publicity that she got), Famous Amos was just getting famous and I had a treasure—the LA times printed the famous “Mrs. Field’s cookie recipe”.  This was a great urban legend of the time—that someone had bought the recipe from her and at the counter they said two-fifty was the cost of the recipe—they took it and left without looking at their visa bill, when it arrived they saw it was two hundred fifty dollar and not two dollars and fifty cents that they thought…they were so mad that they decided to publish the recipe to the whole world…and of course Mrs. Fields denied ever selling her recipe and that that the story was a fraud…fraud or no—it made the best tasting chocolate chip cookies I have ever eaten so I used it for many many years.

Going through the recipes, I saw that there were no chocolate chip cookies in the list—(I felt safe in that I can keep my favorite recipe unaltered).  Unfortunately however I also didn’t see a recipe for the one kind of cookies that I DO want to learn how to make—the fabulous Macaron.  If you have never tasted a fabulous Macaron, you need to rush out to a snooty pastry shop or street café and try them.  I remember my first taste—I was visiting a friend in NY, we went downtown to the Banana Republic and for whatever reason, the salesman came around with a tray of lightly colored cookies and offered me one.  At first I didn’t want to try one—they looked like baby cookies in their light pastels and their exterior, but my friend told me to taste one—that they were really a gourmet treat.  I did and it was love at first bite.  Anyway…no Macarons—but there was a good selection of cookies to make just the same.  We made lace cookies, health cookies, espresso cookies with white chocolate (that was a small fiasco that I’ll talk about later)…lemon popyseed cookies, butter-shortbread cookies, Mexican wedding cake cookies and please forgive me for my spelling—saharoneh cookies.  (I promise to ask the chef how to write this correctly in English as she only mentioned the name in Hebrew…)

Mexican wedding cakes.  Wow—that brings back a memory!  I was in 6th grade and had to make a presentation for my class for cinco-de-mayo about Mexican culture.  Now—here I was in 6th grade—eleven years old and already a budding chef.  For part of my presentation I decided to make Mexican Wedding Cakes—a light cookie that was rolled in powdered sugar while still warm so that it absorbs the powdered sugar as part of the cookie.  Really nice cookies!  Anyway…I made the cookies and put them on a paper plate and stapled another paper plate on top as a storage container (we didn’t have Tupperware back then)…I put it where I always put things to take to school—the floor of the dining room—I don’t remember when I discovered it, but I do remember learning that Penny (our dog) had found the paper plates and was not deterred at all by the stapled top—she managed to get all the cookies.  I had time to make another batch so I did—and they were popular at school.  I’ll have to make a note to see if I can find the old recipe that I used 35 years ago (is it really that long ago!) to compare what we did here.

Process for making cookies—sablage or cremage

Checking my sources, I found that sabler means “to reduce to sand” – which basically means that you start with very cold ingredients—especially the butter—the butter is chopped to small cubes and returned to the refrigerator while you make the rest of the mies en place.  Using the paddle attachment, the butter and flour are mixed together until the butter is coated with a layer of flour and makes a fine grit like sand.  If you add water – make sure it’s ice water but that you strain out any ice.  Once the butter and flour are mixed, you add the liquids SLOWLY and only until the dough just starts to clump.  (Even if the recipe calls for more—don’t be tempted to add more than needed!).  Pat the dough to a thin disc, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours to relax the dough and chill it before continuing.

Cremage method for pastry is what I had always done for making cookies.  Cream the butter and sugar(s) together and then alternate between adding the liquids and the powders.  Just barely mix with each addition until it’s incorporated into the mass.  Butter chopped to cubes is used at room temperature here—but if it’s cold, just chop it smaller.  

One thing that I’m proud to see is that my long time method of creaming the butter and sugar together and then adding the liquids and finally the flour is right!  Thanks Mrs. Fields—you really did teach the right method in your cookbook (no, I’m not talking about the recipe that I mentioned above from the newspaper urban legend, but rather a cookbook that I bought I don’t know when called Mrs. Field’s cookies cookbook.)  She taught the same way in her book.  Now I need to compare the lemon-poppyseed cookie recipes to see how they compare…

My team made the health cookies—what a sticky mess and it didn’t use any special technique—just mixing the ingredients together and then pressing the cookies to shape.  We used a falafel baller and then rings with a pastry press—got to get one to make those cookies later on…

Now for the mess that we had.  Melting chocolate isn’t hard but it has to be done right.  Chocolate is really picky about how it wants to be treated and if you don’t play to its rules—well…it still may be sweet but the wonderful melt-in-your-mouth (or hands) texture is gone forever.  I wasn’t paying attention to it at the time, but whoever melted the white chocolate used to decorate the cookies—well…they either heated the chocolate too much or they had the flame too high (there are a few rules here—use a bain-marie or double boiler to melt chocolate.  Don’t let the water in the bain marie touch the bottom of the upper bowl—it should be heated only by steam.  Don’t heat it too hot or it breaks down the chocolate (don’t know the rules for chocolate melting temperatures but there are rules about that) and don’t use a flame that’s too high.  (This rule I do know).  If you can’t hold your hand comfortably on the upper bowl of the bain marie—the flame is too high.)  Anyway—after dipping a few of the cookies in the white chocolate—the chocolate gelled and was no longer adequate for dipping.  sigh.  Made do the best we could.

What a take-home load!  Cookies are small so we made a lot of them!  It’s my opinion that the best part of class is the take-home portion at the end.  Everything that we make in class goes home with us—I’m the one responsible for dividing the spoils at the end—this time the payoff was great!

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