Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Of Bunnies & Beans

"Harvey" was real, right?  I'm pretty sure he was, and I know that because I think he showed up in my kitchen last night, and informed me that my bunnies had noses where their mouths were supposed to be and where were their mouths anyway? And, oh, by the way, neither their fur nor feet are ever pink.  He apparently knows quite a bit about miniature birds too, as I was informed that about half of my so called chicks actually more closely resembled Puffins and their wings were on backwards.
So goes the hallucinations and ramblings of a weary baker in the wee hours of the morning as I unknowingly re-classified some birds or rearranged the limbs of  everyone's favorite barnyard, Kentucky Fried, Sunday dinner chicken.  And I suspected a mutiny when the chicks mysteriously were laying an endless stream of eggs that needed be "dyed and decorated."  On top of that my brainstorm of baking hundreds of  tiny 'jelly bean' cookies wasn't feeling quite so smart as carpel tunnel syndrome began setting in half way through the 'black ones' - the ones most people pick out or avoid (go figure that those are my favorite!),  not to worry though - there was no licorice involved and they all tasted the same - even the white and pink ones were good!

So my late night makes for poor photos and abbreviated blogs, but thankfully the volume of cookies meant that there were enough good ones to camouflage the 'circus freak show' cookies and they could inconspicuously be integrated in the general cutout cookie population, whew!  But ya know what, that's the nice thing about this project, I'm pretty sure no one's gonna complain.  Not that they may not have cause (I'm really hoping no one cracks a tooth on that 'Royal Icing' - it looks great but can dry as hard as a rock), and I'll certainly do my best to never give away something I wouldn't eat myself (though truth be told, when it comes to cookies, that's a pretty 'low bar!' :) but the bottom line is everyone on the receiving end just seems extremely gracious and genuinely appreciative of anything I bake, and while it may not always create an avenue for an honest assessment, it's very nice none the less - and as the saying goes, flattery will get you everywhere, or at the very least, more cookies!
See more pictures on Gilda's Club Facebook Page!

Update on the actual cookies I baked here.  Some of the cookies were the same dough I used for the Valentines Hearts (Betty Crocker Cutouts - the Light Dough) and are my personal favorites, taste wise.  I typically ice those with my own made up version of a 'Buttercream" where I use a lot less butter.  Honestly these don't look as nice as the ones pictured above because the frosting is typically spread on versus piped - but the honey taste in those cookies is the best, very addicting - plus they were the ones my Mom always made so there is no other cutout cookie as far as I'm concerned!

But, in attempt to broaden my horizons a bit, I decided to try some other doughs and give this slick looking "royal icing" thing a try for the first time.  The other two doughs were from Bon Appetit Magazine via the Epicurious website - one of my favorites!  The cookies pictured above are simply called Christmas Cutouts, and are a pretty traditional sugar cookie with just a touch of sour cream.  They baked up pretty light and crisp, really hold their shape well for cutouts and after chilling the dough for a day it was very easy to work with.  The third dough was very similar to these in texture with the big difference being it was flavored with a little nutmeg, these Holiday Sugar Cookies were also from Bon Appetit.  

I used the Royal Icing recipe pretty much as written that is included with the Holiday Sugar Cookies for both of these cookie recipes.  The only modification I made was to double the amount of powdered egg whites called for because I was actually using Meringue Powder, which has some added confectioners sugar and corn starch.  I adjusted the proportions according to the recipe on the Meringue Powder jar and it seemed just about perfect in terms of how it hardened. Though I also had to add quite a bit more water than called for in this recipe to get it to the right piping consistency.   I will definitely use this again, but will also look to add some different flavorings to it, such as Lemon or Mint, since I found the Vanilla to not really be noticeable

I will admit that you can't argue with how nice the Royal Icing looks, and I'm not a great piper/decorator by any means, but for taste, you've gotta go with the buttercream, even my light version goes great with any cookie. For comparison, below on the left is the Betty Crocker honey cookie with light Buttercream icing and on the right (and the larger picture above) is of the sour cream Sugar Cookie with Royal Icing - but it's not fair to judge without tasting them too!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Restocking the pantry - with a little help from my friends

So you all remember Warren, right?

I ran the half marathon in New Orleans with him while his wife Jennifer and their friend Julie did the full marathon.  He seems pretty mild mannered and unassuming when you meet him, then you find out he's an Ironman, a police detective, and Buffalo Triathlon Club (BTC) volunteer race director (among other things) and you get the sense that he's just an all around good guy.  Well, I'll certainly never argue anything any different!  You see a few weeks ago we were both at a BTC meeting and he told me that he had something he needed to put in my car, so I walk outside with him and he opens his trunk and you'd think he'd just conducted a raid on the baking aisle at Wegmans!

Actually, I think he must have been shopping at a wholesale club, because in his car he had 4-10 lb bags of Flour , (yes, 40 pounds!) along with 10lbs of Sugar and the biggest bag of Confectioners Sugar I've ever seen, and all top quality stuff.  I know he's been following this little project of mine and he thought this would be nice way to contribute to it .... VERY NICE, I'd say.  Very generous and very much appreciated - so it doesn't look like I'm gonna be done baking anytime soon, and that's fine with me! Thanks for being a part of the cookie project Warren!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Macaro(o)n Week

I guess how you spell it depends on which one you're eating, but for the record, I made both varieties so I can't settle on the 'o' or the 'oo' version, and since it's pronounced the same, who really cares.  Actually, 'who cares' is probably the French, of course they do, so hopefully they'll forgive my indecision and wandering palate into the other non-French Macaron world this week as well.

It definitely was macaron week, but I do need to note the exception of my selection and delivery to the Ronald McDonald House.  As much as I've been on this 'macaron mission' this past week, I thought better of baking them for RMH.  You see the comment I've heard most often from the House Manager there is that what guests seem to appreciate most about the cookies I've delivered is that they are individually wrapped and portable. She also said that they typically just grab one 'for later' as they're on the way out door to the hospital or Roswell or to do errands.  So with that in mind I figured it best to not provide them with some light, delicate little treat that will break and crumble back into a powdery dust the minute it's shoved in their purse or pocket.  So no macaroons for RMH, but rather a traditional Sugar Cookie with a hint of sour cream that I hope not only proved to be more convenient but also a bit more substantial.

So back to the macarons, first and foremost I have to say:  "Ta-Da!"
My photography may not be perfect, but these macarons are!

So there you have it, you are witness to my first 'proper' french macarons. Orange with Orange Chocolate Ganache (my personal flavor quest!) and Chocolate with Espresso Cream.  Officially they were attempts (batches) numbers 5 and 6 and, unfortunately for me, only batch 3 actually had to hit the garbage can - since while the shape of the macaron may be extremely unforgiving, the taste definitely is not.  I knew I was on the brink with 
batch number four, I was cheering and skipping around the house when they rose to perfection in the oven and I saw perfect macaron 'feet' for the first time, even Gulliver was excited (ok, it doesn't take much to make that dog happy, but he knew we were on the verge of something fantastic! :)  But alas, not unlike the Buffalo Bills celebrating at halftime of Superbowl XXVIII  (attempt #4 for them too) I was a bit premature in my excitement when the perfect looking macarons were actually underbaked and refused to release themselves from the Silpat mat.  But unlike the unknown demons of my first few attempts, the simple solution of having to up the baking time boosted my confidence.

One concern I had was that even if I was successful, these cute little sandwiches wouldn't be a very substantial snack so I thought perhaps I needed some kind of back up plan.  I was toying with the idea of a few different complimentary recipes when the notion occurred to me 'why don't I make macaroons?' the 'oo' kind?  So a few scrolls through Martha's 'Cookie of the Day' archives landed me on 'Pinched Orange Macaroons' complete with a video segment from her show of the Pastry Chef, Patrick Lemble, making them step by step.   This I could handle, and hopefully on my first try! Check out my picture to the right, they look just like they do on the video, only  better, you can't eat the ones on TV. And these are seriously good.

So with that tangential macaroon victory on the board, I rolled up my sleeves and got down to business on the macaron I really wanted to make. I measured with annoying accuracy, and then after aging and resting and room temperature-ing the egg whites, I beat the hell of 'em, uh, I mean, I beat the egg whites until I 'obtained that glossy meringue being careful not to over beat' stage.

Then I ground and whisked and folded and piped and rested and waited patiently.... then (catching breath); I cooled them and paired them off and piped the chocolate ganache and Voila! C'mon, how simple is that!?
Ok, I'm almost done talking about macarons, I swear (for this week anyway), but once completed, something else occurred to me ... no matter how many I make, these are not going to last long - trust me, this I know. Figuring a single, slightly hungry, 'Noogieland Teen' at Gilda's club could plow through a whole batch in a matter of minutes. I realized I had to come up with something a bit more 'kid friendly' that wouldn't cost a fortune or take a lifetime to make. So in keeping with a theme, I settled on, you guessed it, Macaroons.  But obviously not French Macarons, or uppity Four Season's Almond Macaroons, but instead, exactly what I'm sure 99 out of 100 people think of when you say 'Macaroon.'   Good old Coconut Macaroons, courtesy of Alton Brown.  So all told 3 different types; 4 different flavors of macaro(o)ns went to Gilda's club this week, and they were also unintentionally timely in that the 'cookies with no flour' thing made them ok for Passover too (I think). So with all that, I do believe this is now officially "Macaro(o)n week."

I'm kinda of sad that it's drawing to a close, but I know I'm no where near done with these guys yet.  They're too fun and cute, not to mention tasty, to just file the recipe away with a few footnotes. And I'm hoping someone, other than myself, who actually ate them can vouch for that 'tasty' commentary - and I think they're especially delicious if that whole "we eat with our eyes first" saying holds true.  No, these have to be made over and over, with different nuts and cremes and colors and fillings.  Anyone have a birthday coming up?  Any weddings or gatherings or occasions? They don't even have to be "special" occasions, for example, I happen to think 'Sunday' and 'lunch' are occasions ... hey, Easter's only about a week away and I know exactly what I can make - now if I only had a brunch invitation ....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Running & Research in The Big Easy ...

Between the Maple Leaf Butter Cookies and the Ginger Snaps I snuck out of town for a long weekend in New Orleans.  What?  You all haven't converted to the 'Modern Cookie Calender' yet?   Give it a little time, you will - it's so much easier to follow than the Julian, Gregorian or Roman versions.  It's a simple concept really, rather than marking time in days and weeks and months it's done in flavors and shapes and texture profiles, I mean who doesn't remember the Sour Cream Drops era  - ok, maybe it needs a little more time to catch on, the translation: it was the last weekend in February.

The New Orleans trip was planned in the fall, when the Hales (Jennifer and Warren pictured here on the far left and in the middle, with their friend Julie) had signed up for the Rock 'n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon respectively along with Julie, who would be doing her first marathon.  I was fresh off having one of those 'pinch me' moments after having a personal best at the Dublin Marathon.  That was extremely fun! As was touring the country in the days that followed (now you understand all the Guinness references in the previous entry).  In fact it was so much fun that I foolishly couldn't hardly wait to sign up for my next marathon, so when the NOLA trip was suggested they didn't have to ask twice, actually, I'm not sure they asked at all, but they'll learn!

I'll skip the details of my injuries and ailments that turned my 'next marathon' into my 'next half marathon,' but the reduced distance didn't do anything to deter me from wanting to visit N'awlins ... and it certainly made my time there much less painful. And by the time the trip actually rolled around I was knee deep into this cookie project and decided I could benefit from some further reconnaissance on that macaron quest of mine.  I just needed to get that pesky run out of the way! So finishers medals all the way around (Jen & Julie for 26.2 miles, Warren and I a respectable 13.1) as we pose on one of the Mardi Gras floats - now it was time to get work on what we really came to New Orleans for, the food! (Okay, maybe I'm just speaking for myself there :)

So do you recall that little macaron obsession of mine and apparently of quite a few other people also?  I actually had this first miserable attempt prior to my trip.  As you can see below they were more like coins or wafers than macarons, but I had too much invested in the ingredients to toss 'em out and the good news is that they still tasted great. So I filled them, renamed them (I do believe they became 'Milano' cookies ;) and gave them to a friend to give away at work.
So while in New Orleans, on my food day, uh, I mean 'free' day after the run, I took it upon myself to seek out the real deal. I wanted to see and taste for myself what all the fuss was about.  A short ride on the St Charles Avenue Trolley and a stroll across the garden district landed me at Sucre, and it was there that I found these:

and ate these:
I  was also offered several 'free samples' (which made the cost a bit easier to swallow too) since I was told that they they cannot sell the broken ones, pity.

But after seeing and tasting a proper macaron it is no wonder they are packaged like fine crystal, and cost nearly as much.  My shapeless little wafers did not do them justice. They are extremely delicate and require very careful handling.  Every variety starts from 3 main ingredients: Egg Whites, Almonds & Confectioners Sugar, which means no butter, no flour, no leavening of any kind. My guess is the pastry chefs at the likes of Sucre and Paulette have their technique down, but for me they have proven, on my now 4 attempts (with varying degrees of success), to be extremely labor intensive.  I've fed an unreasonable number of egg yolks down the garbage disposal, I've discovered it's much more cost effective to make your own almond flour (by simply grinding almonds but be sure to stop short of turning it into almond butter - don't ask me how I know that), I've found the right sheen on the beaten egg whites, I know when to add flavoring and coloring and just how much before one drop too many liquefies the entire batch, I can see the difference between room temperature egg whites and  those cracked straight from the fridge, I've aged the egg whites and have witnessed the macarons produce the ever elusive "feet."  In other words, I'm getting really close - I think one more batch and I just might have it.  An actual macaron, one worthy of a ganache or buttercream filling.  If I can just correct my little 'under-baking' and 'sticking to the silpat' issue (without messing anything else up) I just might have my very own macaron to show ... and to serve ... stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Goin' Green!

I've had TONS of things to write about rattling around in my head for the past few weeks, but since daylight savings time can't possibly be to blame for ALL of my poor planning and over-scheduling  the past week or so, I'll concede that I just haven't been able to get anything down on paper.  So I'm gonna hold on to a few of them, the ones that aren't quite so time sensitive, since I know all three of you out there that actually read this blog will thoroughly enjoy those phantom posts sometime in the hopefully not too distance future ...

What I CAN do before it's too late is wish you all a very Happy St. Patrick's Day!  It's been beautiful weather here this week and I'll admit that raising a few pints of Guinness with friends to toast the old country this evening doesn't sound like such a bad idea, even if it is a 'school night.'  Lucky for me - despite my lack of Irish ancestry - I did manage to deliver some cookies today - so that's one thing I happened to do on time.  I'll confess that the Irish 'theme' was a bit of a stretch - but I took liberties in certifying that anything, that in anyway, can be associated with the Irish flag would fit the bill.  I hope they did not disappoint, since my plan was to make up in flavor what they may have lacked in theme or appearance.  Meaning despite the fact that they weren't shaped like shamrocks or leprechauns or pots of gold, they still tasted delicious... and minty... and green?  

Yes, I am hedging a bit on these cookies. I attended a Happy Hour at Gilda's Club for their volunteers this past Friday (which was much appreciated and I enjoyed finally being in the company of the staff long enough to allow me to remember some names - but don't quiz me on that just yet!), and I'll confess that flattery will get you anywhere, or at the very least will get you a St. Patty's Day themed cookie.  It was nice to hear that some of the folks seem to look forward to the weekly cookie delivery and even enjoy being surprised by the variety of what I make (although, I'll reiterate: I'm more than happy to take requests! :).  Apparently there was some speculation as to what I would do for today's holiday.  I'm sure Shamrocks were on the top of the list.  But, if anyone has been reading here they may have caught onto the fact that I had reached my 'Shamrock limit' for awhile after the Cure Me I'm Irish event (which, by the way, raised over $35,000! Amazing! Awesome! Hurray!). 

So I'll admit to feeling the pressure, but all in good fun, to make good on an appropriate St Patty's day cookie.  Y'all will be happy to know that I very quickly dispelled the idea of diverting from cookies, just this once, to accommodate the theme and make Irish Soda Bread instead.  With apologies to the Irish, well it might be edible soaked in tea or even 'ok' if you wash it down with a pint of Guinness (duh!) or even downright 'delicious' if it were slathered in jam and butter or, more appropriately, clotted cream - after all, what isn't delicious after it's loaded up with butter and jam? Mercifully though, I decided that swapping a cookie for a slice of cardboard (or even 'cardboard with raisins') would be WAY too cruel. 

So instead, I give you Mint Frosted Chocolate Cookies with Chocolate Drizzle - believe me, the Girl Scouts got nothing on this one! 

It's my 'Ace in the hole,' the most loved and requested cookie of the dozens of varieties I make for friends and family every Christmas and the only cookie who's recipe cannot be revealed.  It's the one thing that, absent love and lineage, assures me gifts under the tree or a rescue mission when my car breaks down or a ride to the hospital in an emergency.  I know my value and usefulness will diminish greatly if people knew they could make this themselves... Ok, Ok, my friends and family aren't that shallow, and I'm not quite that insecure, but yer still not getting the recipe - let's just call it 'insurance.' :)

Oh, and speaking of insurance, I tossed in a batch of Orange Pistachio Biscotti for anyone who may not care for the most delicious chocolate mint cookie ever (do those people really exist?! :) ... anyway, that 'orange pistachio' thing? Totally Irish - orange and green after all!
(my apologies for the over use of 'beer' and 'Guinness' references in this post - all this Irish & Ireland talk has transported me back to the pubs & music & merriment from 'me trip' this past October - or is it this 'coming' October? :)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring in the air & Martha in the oven

I'm not going to argue with a forecast of  '60 Degrees and Sunny' in early March. It can even make the most miserable of moods feel pretty bearable.  I know this because it's been working for me ... as all the travel and meetings and obligations and lack of sleep from last week came crashing into me on Monday morning, I was still able to rise and shine and tackle the week, from early workouts to evenings out that didn't seem much of a chore when you realize winter coats were no longer required.

I'm thinking with all these hints of spring in the air, maybe I should have baked something more 'spring like' this week.  Of course after saying that, I have no idea what would qualify as a 'spring cookie' short of a cutout decorated like a spring blossom.  But after frosting and decorating all the cutouts for the Cure Me I'm Irish fundraiser this past weekend, I just didn't have another round of that in me so soon. In honor of the nice weather I thought about opting for something resembling a dirty melted snowbank, but didn't think that would go over so well, but if anyone has any better ideas for 'spring cookies' toss 'em my way, will ya?

Instead I went for something simpler and that would provide a nice contrast in flavor and texture from the crisp, spicy ginger snaps of last week.  I'm guessing the 'audience' for all these cookies covers a pretty broad range of palates, so if something isn't appealing to someone one week, maybe a totally different cookie will hit the mark the next week. Plus, uh, I was kind of going for 'easy' again and wanted to avoid all the rolling and cutting and frosting if I could (refer to comments above about expected degree of miserableness this week).

I had bookmarked a Martha recipe - assuming I no longer have to specify Martha 'Who,'  since there is only one after all, isn't there?  Certainly she ranks among the likes of Oprah, Prince, Cher, Sting, Madonna or, uh, dare I suggest, Tiger? in that you know exactly to whom I refer, even despite her rather common name - anyway, yes I had a recipe of 'hers' in mind.  A drop cookie, but something a little different, 'Banana Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies.'  Touted by her faithful followers to be better than any Banana Bread they've ever tasted (assuming of course they've never tasted Martha's Banana Bread, however, since that would create quite a contradiction!).
Here's the ingredient list (you can see the full recipe here):
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 large)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into 1/4-inch chunks
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (about 2 ounces), toasted
Nice in that it used some whole wheat flour and oats, the walnuts are okay since at least they're providing some healthy fat and it is a cookie after all so you can't really complain about the chocolate. But, as I may have mentioned in earlier posts, I've kind of adopted an unwritten rule that unless I was making some crazy delicious concoction, I wanted to stay with recipes that had a ratio of 1 stick, or 1/2 cup, of butter to about 1 cup of sugar per batch (about 30-40  2-3"cookies).  The light cookies I've made usually beat this ratio, no problem, most regular cookies do have this ratio and I don't think it's necessary that a simple treat needs to be bad for you by packing it full of fat & sugar.  Most of these medium sized cookies (bigger than store packaged cookies, smaller than the giant bakery cookies) will have between 70-150 calories and only a few grams of fat (see my comparison to similarly sized Otis Spunkmeyer cookie here).

So the solution?  Simple, reduce the fat by replacing it with something else - I've had a lot of success using fruits and applesauce in particular, so I did that here.  I reduced the fat by 1/3 (1/4 cup) and replaced it with 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce and added a few extra tablespoons of flour to account for the extra liquid.  If I had additional ripe bananas I would've used those instead to increase the banana flavor, and judging from the results, I think you could easily replace 1/2 to 2/3 of the butter with a comparable amount of fruit or applesauce.  The texture and flavor of the cookies were great right out of the oven, due to the added fruit they'll take on a moister texture when they're stored, but just keep them separated by wax paper and it's all good.... and I'm talking 'Martha Good!'

(cookies ready to bake, but I'm really just showing off my very 'Martha Worthy' Pot Filler Faucet)

Sunday, March 7, 2010


With the understanding that "one good cause deserves a free cookie as much as the next one" I took on a little side job this week.  When the organizers of the local 'Cure Me I'm Irish' fundraiser accepted my offer to provide some cookies for their event I was happy to make good on it.

The event was held yesterday and it's purpose was twofold.  First it was an event and  fundraiser to help raise awareness and much needed money for the NB Alliance which supports the research efforts to cure pediatric cancers and specifically Neuroblastoma.  And more importantly it was an event to show support to a local family and their young daughter, Melina Riniolo, who was first diagnosed with Neuroblastoma in 2004 at the age of 8.  You can see and read more about Melina on the event website and on her and her mom's Caring Bridge Journal - just be prepared to be very touched and inspired by their fight... and their heart... and their hope.

I'm anxious to hear how the event went, as I wasn't able to attend myself (and it's still not too late to throw a few bucks their way!), but did see a lot of great press about it including air time on 97 Rock and post event coverage on the late local news.  A friend in attendance commented on how crazy busy it was, so I hope that was a good sign.  I could tell by all the effort and activity at the Kenmore Knights of Columbus hall yesterday afternoon (when I dropped off the cookies) that SO much work had gone into this.
My part in this was a very small 'drop in the bucket.'  I did about 170 frosted shamrocks and hearts, which I think were sold as part of their bake sale ... the cookies were simple and I used the same dough recipe as I had used for the Valentine's hearts for Gilda's & RMH.  The only request of Terry Simmons, Melina's aunt and one of the main organizers of the event, was to have some with Melina's name written on them, which I accommodated on the hearts.  I did the shamrocks rather plain/traditional green and white and then the hearts were mostly done in a golden yellow, the color representative of the fight against neuroblastoma, with "Melina" written in green.

One thing I did enjoy doing with the cookies was my attempt at replicating part of the traditional Irish 'cladagh' ring.  On the ring, the heart is representative of love, the crown of loyalty and the hands stand for friendship.  I managed some cute cookies with the heart and crown and it's assured that all of those in attendance provided the hands of friendship.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ginger Snap Simple

Just a quick post about this weeks cookies, then hopefully I can take up some time and space and give a little update on my trip this past weekend to New Orleans for the Rock 'n Roll Mardi Gras Marathon (or half marathon in my case).  Lots to tell about the Big Easy but that's just gonna have to wait.
The finished product in my 'Aunt Mary' cookie jar

For the moment at least I'll stay on topic about the cookies that went out today.  Given the day my trip fell on(left on Saturday and returned Tuesday afternoon) it meant some pre-planning on my part, along with a recipe selection that needed to be a bit less labor intensive than were some previous cookies.  But short on time definitely should not mean short on flavor.  I'd had a few options floating around but in the end settled on a tried and true version of a most basic cookie - nope, not chocolate chip (I'm holding out on that one for awhile - too much pressure!) ... what I chose was a 'Ginger Snap.'   Not a gingerbread cookie or molasses crinkle, but a simple, spicy, crisp, slice and bake Ginger Snap.  I do believe a glass of milk or cup of coffee is a prerequisite with these cookies since they can definitely stand up to any 'dunk' test!

I wasn't really looking for a Ginger Snap recipe, but when I happened upon it, I knew I had to make it.  For two reasons: 1) it's recommended that the dough be made ahead of time and it's even preferred to freeze it before slicing and baking the cookies (which would fit perfectly with my travel plans); and 2) it's from one of the few American chef icons of our time, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame, the slow food movement and the instigator of the current White House garden.  A bit of  dreamer for sure, but she certainly knows good food.

The recipe is below - and if you make it I'd suggest keeping a 'log' in your freezer so you can slice off a half dozen or more and bake them up fresh when you need them - these definitely are not an average ginger cookie!  And you can see more about Alice Waters on this 60 Minutes piece from last year.

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Ginger Snaps
Makes ~40 cookies
From The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution (Clarkson Potter) by Alice Waters.

2 cups (280 g) flour
11/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
11/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
11 tablespoons (150 g) butter, salted or unsalted, at room temperature
2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup (80 g) mild-flavored molasses* (sometimes called 'light' molasses)
1 large egg, at room temperature

Optional step: coarse sugar crystals, turbinado sugar or white sugar for coating the cookies.  You can also rev-up the spices, and add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, cloves, nutmeg or allspice to suit your taste.

1. Stir together the dry ingredients.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter just until soft and fluffy. Add the sugar and continue to beat until smooth, stopping the mixer to scrape down any butter clinging to the sides of the bowl.

3. Stir in the vanilla, molasses and egg.

4. Mix in the dry ingredients gradually until the dough is smooth.

5. Divide the dough in two equal portions and roll each on a lightly-floured surface until each is about 2-inches (5cm) around. Don't worry if they're not perfect; you can neaten them up in a second.

6. Wrap each in plastic wrap then roll them lightly on the counter to smooth them out. Refrigerate, or better yet, freeze the cookie logs until firm.

7. To bake, preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

8. Slice cookie dough into 1/4-inch (a scant 1 cm) rounds with a sharp knife. Dip one side and press firmly in a bowl of coarse sugar if you want (you can also use granulated sugar instead), and place sugar-side up on baking sheet, evenly-spaced apart. Leave a couple of inches, about 5 cm, between cookies since they'll spread while baking.

9. Bake for 10-14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway during baking, until deep-golden brown. The cookies will puff up a bit while baking, then settle down when they're done. Bake on the lower end of the range for softer cookies, and more for snappier ones, depending on your oven.

10. Let the cookies cool two minutes, then remove them with a spatula and transfer them to a cooling rack.
Storage: The dough can be refrigerated for up to five days, or frozen for up to three months. Once baked, the cookies can be kept in an air-tight container for a couple of days but like anything made with butter, of course they're best the day they're baked.

Nutritional Information based on 40 Cookies: Calories:75  Fat:3.3g  Cholesterol:13.9g  Sodium:79.1mg  Potassium:34.7mg Total Carbohydrate:7.4g  Fiber:0.3g  Sugars:5.6g  Protein:0.8g