Sunday, November 6, 2011

cookie o' the month...

Baker Beth's November Cookie O' The Month is Here! Once again, brilliance with flour, butter and sugar have found their way to a cookie. Don Corleone Would be Proud. I kiss the ring Beth. I kiss the Ring. -angelo

So, here we are. November.

In July, I had the beginning of an idea for a cookie, but it wouldn't gel. Because, I eventually realized, it was a fall cookie. Late fall. Not the vivid colors we associate with autumn but the muted palette of now.

And so I waited. Tucked the idea away and waited for November to come.

And here we are.

As you know, Angelo is my inspiration for these cookies I create.

"The Godfather" is Angelo's favorite film.

And this is my interpretation of "The Godfather" in cookie form.

I watched the movie again as research. (I own it, of course. Do you?) And there are many food references throughout. But I didn't want to simply take ingredients from the film and incorporate them into a cookie. I wanted to conjure the feel of the film, the essence of it.

I kept coming back to loyalty. How to bake a cookie that conveyed loyalty. I thought about those who ask the Don for favors and kiss his hand. And  then I thought about the famous scene in "The Godfather Part II" in which Michael, now the head of the family, confronts his brother Fredo. Michael clutches Fredo's head in his hands, kisses him, hard, on the mouth, and says, "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart."

That moment sums up the entire saga for me, the gulf between loyalty and love.

And with that, my brain arrived at agrodolce baci. Bittersweet kisses.

These cookies are intensely flavored – dark chocolate and bourbon and espresso and toasted almonds ground fine – and a contrast in textures: the tender-yet-crumbly cookie gives way to silken ganache. The bittersweetness slightly lingers.

If I may, I suggest a languid dinner, with olives and cheese and then pasta and wine, with these for dessert, paired with espresso and a bit of bourbon to sip.

Later, pour what's left of the wine, and settle in on the couch to watch Brando and Pacino and Duvall and Keaton and Caan cast their spells.

Now that is a November evening. It wouldn't have been the same in July.

Buona sera, i miei amici.

— Beth

Bittersweet Baci
(Adapted from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina DePalma, Published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2007)

For the cookies:
1/2 cup whole raw almonds *
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/3 cup less 1 tablespoon Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder **
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (two sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ (10x) sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon bourbon

1 egg white lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water

For the ganache filling:
8 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons bourbon (optional, but recommended)

To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 325ºF. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet, and toast them until they are fragrant, about 15 minutes. Remove the almonds from the oven and turn off the oven until you are ready to form the cookies. Allow the almonds to cool completely, then grind them in a food processor with the granulated sugar until they are finely chopped.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and confectioners’ sugar on medium speed until creamy and light, about 2 minutes, then beat in the vanilla and bourbon and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On low speed, beat in the dry ingredients, followed by the ground almonds. Remove the dough from the bowl, flatten it into a disc, wrap it in plastic and chill the dough for about an hour, or until it is firm enough to handle.

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper. On a cutting board or other surface, divide the dough into 3 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the others wrapped and refrigerated. Roll each portion of dough into a small log about 3/4 inch in diameter. Cut each log into 1/2-inch lengths and roll each piece into a ball. Drop each ball into dish of egg white and swirl to coat. Remove balls with fork, allowing excess egg white to drip off. Place balls on the prepared baking sheets, spaced half an inch apart. Repeat with the remaining portions of dough.

Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, rotating the sheet 180º halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning, until the cookies are puffed and cracking slightly on top, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool for 1 or 2 minutes on the sheet, then use a spatula to gently remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cookies are cooling, make the ganache filling. Place the chopped chocolate and butter in a medium bowl. Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan until it comes to a boil, then pour it over the chocolate and butter. Allow the mixture to sit for a few moments, then whisk until smooth and glossy. Whisk in the bourbon, if desired. Allow the ganache to cool, whisking it occasionally, until it is firm enough to pipe.

To assemble the baci, pair up the cookies according to size. Turn one cookie upside down, and using a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip ***, pipe a small amount of ganache onto the flat side, then place the bottom of another cookie on the ganache to form a sandwich; the two round tops of the cookies should be facing outwards. Allow the ganache to firm up, then transfer the baci to a serving plate.

Beth Note: Gina writes, "The cookies may be stored, layered between sheets of parchment, in an airtight container kept in a cool place, for up to 3 days," but they're best eaten shortly after they're made to maintain the different textures.

Makes approximately 5 dozen single cookies or 2 1/2 dozen sandwiches.

* The original recipe calls for whole blanched almonds, but I wanted the hint of bitterness from the almond skins.

** Hershey's Special Dark is a blend of both natural and Dutch-processed cocoa powders. The original recipe calls for Dutch-processed cocoa only, but I wanted the darker color that's achieved with Special Dark.

*** A zip-top bag makes a fine stand in for a pastry bag. Tuck one corner of the bag into a glass then cuff the opening of the bag around the top of the glass to hold it open. Fill with ganache, snip off a bit of the corner of the bag, twist the top of the bag closed, and proceed with piping. Alternatively, just use a spoon to dollop a bit of the filling onto half of the cookies, then top them with their mates.

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