Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The empress of all cookies

In my very early childhood, my grandmother used to come out from New York with giant cardboard boxes full of food she'd made or brought to make. She'd get off the airplane with pounds of frozen lamb, with barrels of olives, and with these goraybe cookies.

I don't remember any of it, but my mom tells the story well, and the few memories I do have of this grandmother are all pleasantly mingled with an overwhelming sense--that reduction of scent and memory--of food.

I have seven different versions of this recipe, all hand-written, all from different great-aunts, second cousins, or grandmothers. The ingredients are all the same, but the batch size and ratios are different. At some point this summer, I'd like to compare the recipes.

Goraybe (also sometimes spelled Ghoraybe) has just three ingredients: butter, sugar, and flour. But the butter is clarified and the recipes call for both powdered and superfine sugars. The effect is incredible. The cookies are dense but delicate with a texture that falls into that space of perfection between the poles of soft and brittle. The nuttiness of the clarified butter (you brown the milk solids just enough to give the butter the flavor) balances the sweetness to produce what I think is a totally transcendent cookie experience.

These cookies are so good that, when I was sixteen, I crashed my car after a platter of them spilled on my passenger's seat and I tried to pick them up while driving. I learned an important lesson that day: Before driving, always put the cookies in a container that seals.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Chocolate scales

I was cutting up chocolate while preparing to make truffles and had to take a photo of the pretty pattern the thinly sliced chocolate made on the knife.

Finally, pretty French macaroons

Yay! It took a few failed attempts, some disappointing recipes, and a lot of selfless sampling, but the French macaroons (from this recipe off of David Lebovitz's blog) came out pretty and looking just right.

Crisp on the outside, with a smooth unblemished top, a good foot, filling that moistened the interior of the cookie- these were everything I had been striving for. I made them extra small, just bite-sized, but noticed that people still took two bites- to savor and perhaps to get a look at that kick-ass cross-section as well.

The macaroon mystery

Same batch of French macaroons, so why do they look so different? There are two differences, and one must hold the key to success.

I piped the dough onto two cookie sheets, and then put one sheet in the oven at a time. The macaroon on the left went into the oven first, and before putting in the oven I rapped the sheet firmly on the counter probably 15 times, in an effort to get out air bubbles that would burst through and ruin the smooth, pretty top.

The one on the right sat on the counter while the first pan was in the oven, and just before putting it in the oven, I lightly tapped the second sheet on the counter.

Based on this, it seems reasonable to suppose that the key is either letting the cookies sit before baking for 10 or so minutes, or lightly tapping instead of firmly rapping the tray. After I experiment with both variables I'll post again with a definitive answer. Although I've learned that French macaroons are so finicky that there may not be a definitive answer.