The Cookie Experience


Linzer CU

Things have been pretty quiet on the culinary school front. We finished our four day cookie segment yesterday. They made me think back to making rolls, because cookies, in their infinite numbers, must also be given individual attention. I know that when I settle in to eat delicious cookies, I look for the most pleasantly-shaped ones (and then break off a half or quarter to eat). So, in this way, I was happy that the cookie segment made me more exacting about the placement of each strip of dough laid on top of linzer bars, to each scoop of cookie dough, and to the piping out of each madeleine.

We also practiced the creaming method for just about every cookie, so it is absolutely clear that, first, soft butter and sugar must be creamed together. This takes about 5 minutes in a mixer, and requires occasionally scraping down the bowl and paddle (and I never did find a non-awkward way to do that). The eggs should usually be added in small enough additions so that they emulsify smoothly with the creamed batter. If they make the batter look curdled, they may incorporate after more mixing, or they may remain separated and result in a denser product. Usually, this separaration is caused by cold butter; it should be softened out of the fridge, but fyi, you can heat the outside of the bowl with a blowtorch while mixing to fix the cold problem. Then, the flour should be just mixed in or folded in, and then the chips or any other chunky additions. You don’t want to overmix. Alton Brown identifies this as the Muffin Method in his book, because it’s the same technique as muffins. If you overmix the flour into the butter, it’ll develop gluten, and result in “tunneling” throughout the crumb and a tougher chew. That’s because flour + water + agitation = gluten.

The segment was a bittersweet experience, though, because while we were focused on technique, texture, size consistency, and presentation, I wish that we would learn more about taste, and creating flavors, and how to look at or create a recipe and have an idea better than a guess (or blind faith) that the spices, or peels, or flavorings will result in a delicious dessert. Aside from our first day’s work with refrigerator cookies, the flavors of the cookies generally tasted off in one way or another, even if they looked good enough…

So, anyway, here’s the rundown….

Drop Cookies

Clockwise, white chocolate macadamia, peanut butter choc chip, oatmeal raisin, and mud slides. I liked all of these because of their chewiness and strong flavors. I was even impressed that the mud slides were similar to the melted chocolate chip cookies at the City Bakery (um, but not quite as good).

Macaroons

Front to back, chocolate almond macaroons, almond macaroons, and coconut macaroons. These were good exercises in piping (and matching up halves). The ganache for the almond ones took a surprisinly long time to firm up enough to spread onto the cookies. We also dipped the coconut macaroons in chocolate, and learned that, to retain the shape of the cookie under the chocolate, to dip the cookie in chocolate and then move it up and down while always retaining contact with at least a stream of chocolate in the bowl; the surface tension will take away extra chocolate and then you can scrape the bottom on the edge of the bowl before letting it set.

Also, when I read that we were going to make almond macaroons, I had thought that we were going to make French Almond Macarons, which I love. No go. These were basically almond cookies sandwiched together.

Lemon and Biscotti

Next, almond anise biscotti and lemon bars. The biscotti was good structurally, but should have had less anise flavoring. The lemon bars were decent, and it’s important to pour the filling into the hot pre-baked crust before baking them both together, or else they’ll separate.

Bar Cookies

Clockwise, vanilla pretzel, madeleine, linzer bar, sable cookie, and English West Country Easter Biscuits. Thanks to Sam for suggesting the Easter Biscuits, which were the tastiest of the day. They were spiced shortbread cookies that were citrus-y and Poire William-y.

The vanilla pretzel, oddly enough, contained no vanilla, and is coated with Semper chocolate coating, which does not need to be tempered because, if I remember correctly, it does not contain cocoa butter. The taste suffers. I think of it as chocolate-y, not chocolate, so in effect, they were chocolatey, non-vanilla pretzel cookies. We traced a pretzel stencil multiple times on parchment paper to help pipe the desired shape. I like how they look, with the smooth shape and coarse sugar mimicking salt.

The sable is created by making logs of different color dough, cutting them into 8 wedges and then working them together. Although they tasted of bitter cocoa, I see something in this technique; it reminds me of a terrine, in which disparate things are pressed together. Maybe it can be done with fruit somehow, or pate de fruit. The trick would be to get the pieces to stick together; here, the pieces stuck together by brushing a little water on one piece before the next piece was added.

And the linzer, after a day to make the dough, a day to shape and bake the dough, and a day to cut the bars, needed a stronger hazelnut (or I think, almond instead) flavor in the dough to offset the strong sweetness of the seedless jam. The lattice effect is very easy to achieve with very little work. You simply lay all the dough strips in one directions, and then top them with strips going in the direction. When they bake, the parts of dough over the jam sinks down a little bit, and creates an interesting texture.

The madeleines were cakey and lemony and nicely humpbacked, like most other madeleines I’ve had. I can only hope I someday discover why some people enjoy eating them. They’re always too dry and bland for me, no matter where I try them.

4 Responses to “The Cookie Experience”

  1. Chanit Says:

    I LOVE YOUR BLOG ,
    thank you 🙂

  2. Susan Says:

    Great post. I find it interesting that they teach basic cookie technique, but no real taste/construction theory. I assume they leave you to your own devises for that? As for the madeleine, it is one of those things like biscotti and shortbread, that seemed designed to have with a cup of tea or coffee/espresso. Nothing too sweet, but a little bite to go with the beverage. I have had some excellent madeleines, and I think I may even have a cookbook on them. Some are glazed or have citrus zest, some are flavored with lavender or other herbs, and there are even savory madeleines. I think they are an easy cookie to modify with flavor and coatings.

  3. Nina Says:

    Chanit – Hehe Thank you 🙂

    Susan – Yeah, theory is really what I’m looking for. After we make things, they are critiqued, and there is usually mention of taste, but it’s rather anecdotal. I hope that theory is to come, or I’ll press the subject myself anyway.
    And I’ll continue my search for the revelatory madeleine. I don’t usually have tea or coffee with dessert, but next time I get a madeleine, I’ll have a drink with it; I could see the combination elevating the cookie and the tea. Of course, I always think of Proust when madeleines come up, so I really should have done this sooner. 🙂

  4. Sweet Napa » Blog Archive » Pastry Techniques Wrap Up Says:

    […] We finished our Pastry Techniques block last week, with Breakfast Pastries and Desserts as our last two subjects; we had focused on Cookies first. It was a survey of working with different doughs, batters, and fillings. […]

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