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Thursday, May 01, 2008

There is no way I can do justice to the past week without resorting to hyperbole, or, conversely, understating the case.  The response from friends, family and well-wishers to our news has been illuminating, and, for the most part, deeply gratifying.  It might sound disingenuous, particularly coming from someone who checks her stats as many times in a day as I do, but I honestly had no idea that so many people had been following our story and wishing us so well.  I want to thank you all, properly, and I will, at a time when I am not quite so addled by the speed at which things are progressing—and yes, now that we have made this decision, things are progressing very, very rapidly.  “I guarantee that even though it feels like a long wait, you will be shocked by how fast the time will go,” said Lloyd as we went to bed last night.  He’s not kidding.  Things are still happening, but because they’re up in the air, I have to be kind of cagey about disclosing them.  (Since there’s such a thing as being *too* cagey, though, I will say this:  it’s not pregnancy.  I’m not pregnant.  It’s nothing like that.  Whew.)

Truth be told, I’m in something of an overstimulated state right now.  Most of it is due to happiness, excitement and the promise of change, but I’d be lying if I said that no tears had been shed.  There were tears, and plenty of ‘em, this weekend, and I’m not entirely sure that they’re behind me yet.  There’s also, to be frank, some laziness in the mix.  The next three months are going to be busy, busier than the past five months have been, and as a result my engines seem to have ground to a complete halt, as if I were a hibernating bear.  If I weren’t going to Maryland Sheep and Wool with Momerina this weekend, I could easily see myself sitting around my living room, watching the fourth season of Alias on dvd with Lloyd all weekend long, with only occasional breaks for food prepared for us by other people.  ("How morally opposed are you to pizza again?") It’s a weird sensation, this combination of racing brain and torpid work ethic, and I’ll be glad when these extremes stop feeling so, erm, extreme, when they move toward a convergence point that will enable me to get some damn work done.

Until I get to that point, though, I’m going to be a scoundrel, and resort to cheap, easy methods of entertainment.

ka salted cashew crunch cookies

Yes, it’s cookie porn, but it’s really excellent cookie porn.  (I am fully aware that by adopting this terminology, I’m inviting the attention of degenerate googlers, but considering that on any given day I get hits from searches on “ballerina shoes spanking” and “do the hairs on the back of your neck stand up during orgasm” [is that the editorial “your,” or me specifically?], to say nothing of the infamous “humiliating games with duct tape,” I figure that things can’t get much more degenerative around here.)

Ahem.  Sorry.

Ever since the magnificent Bee sent me a copy of the hilarious and inspiring A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down (from the blog of the same name!), I’ve never been without at least one type of cookie/biscuit (waves to the Commonwealth readers) on hand to dunk in my tea.  From time to time I’ll buy a box of Petit Ecolier or Choco Leibniz biscuits from the Italian deli where I shop almost every day, but for the most part I’m still baking my own.  My cookie of choice has been the French honey wafers from Maida Heatter’s Brand New Book of Great Cookies, which are terrific made with orange blossom honey and even better made with tupelo honey, but I bet will be outstanding when made with the Tasmanian leatherwood honey that is once again available in my neighborhood.  I’ve also had a constant supply of Maida’s Cornmeal Shortbread Fingers from the same book, partly because they’re so good when dunked into tea, but also because you get to pipe them through a pastry bag, which, in my opinion, is about as much fun as you can have while still standing up. 

I could probably live happily on both of these all spring, or would have, if I’d hadn’t spent a weekend at Momerina’s reading her copy of King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking, which filled me with a blinding desire to buy my own copy immediately, and then make every single recipe in the book.  Eventually I *will* make everything, but I keep finding myself getting stuck on the Salted Cashew Crunch cookies, which might be as close to my own perfect cookie as anything I’ve found.  I love them so much that I have not even succumbed to the temptation to bake a batch, temper some chocolate and then coat the bottoms, to see if the chocolate enhances the sweet/salt idiom of these particular cookies.  A little chocolate might make a good thing even better, or it might be overkill, or worse yet, acceptable but unnecessary.  My natural tendency to fiddle is not tweaked by these cookies.  They really are close to perfect on their own.

The recipe is not at all complicated, but you do need some equipment.  The cookies are made from rolled oats that have been ground in a food processor for 30 seconds.  If you don’t have a food processor, or a blender, you can use oat flour, but in that case I would definitely recommend that you weigh, not measure, the oat flour, so that you can be sure you’re getting exactly 7 ounces of oats.  (I have not tried leaving the oats whole; my sense is that it would produce a lacier cookie, one more prone to spreading and burning, but that’s just a guess on my part.  Maybe one of these days I’ll try it.) If you have two cookie sheets and can fit 15 cookies on a sheet without cramming them too closely together (about 2” between cookies should be fine), you can bake the whole batch in one pass through the oven; no waiting for cookie sheets to cool down, no trying to find space for additional cookie sheets *and* cooling racks.  It takes less than 10 minutes, including the grinding of oats and chopping of cashews, to put the dough together, which means that you really can go from no dessert to “ooo!  cookies!” in half an hour.  The recipe yields about 30 cookies, which sounds a bit small for a batch of cookies, but these little gems are rich, so a little goes a long way. 

We will not talk about the day I missed lunch, and ate half a dozen in one sitting.  No, we will not.  I do not make a habit of this, and certainly don’t encourage it in others.  wink

Salted Cashew Crunch Cookies (from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking:  Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains [Countryman Press, 2006])
makes 30 cookies
(As always, the recipe is that of the good folks at King Arthur, paraphrased and annotated by me.)

7 ounces (2 cups) old-fashioned rolled oats
8 ounces (2 cups) salted cashew pieces or whole cashews (if you use whole cashews, you may need more than 2 cups to make 8 ounces, although I wouldn’t sweat this too much)
4 ounces (1/2 cup, 1 stick) unsalted butter
5 1/4 ounces (3/4 cup) granulated sugar (unbleached sugar is nice here, but not necessary)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used double-strength vanilla from Penzeys, which gives an unbeatable vanilla flavor)
1 large egg
salt for topping (The King Arthur folks recommend extra-fine salt.  Because I’m a big showboater, I decided to use pinches of fleur de sel, which is an appellation-controllée sea salt from Brittany.  It is considered a “finishing” salt, something you put on your food before you eat it, but not really for cooking or baking.  I think it’s the perfect salt for sprinkling on these cookies, but by all means, use what you like best.  If the thought of baking an expensive salt gives you the vapors, then a nice basic fine sea salt from the supermarket will still work beautifully.)

Preheat the oven to 350F/160C/Gas Mark 4. Place oven racks on the upper and lower third racks.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Grind the oats in a food processor for 30 seconds.  If you are using whole cashews, chop them roughly in the food processor—four or five pushes of the pulse button should do it.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar, salt, baking powder and egg together.  If your butter is soft enough, you can do this by hand, if you’d like.  Stir in the ground oats (I usually do this with a cake whisk) and the cashews (I always do this with my hands; it pretty much ensures that everything is evenly blended.)

Drop the dough by tablespoons onto the cookie sheets.  Flatten the cookies into rounds, either using the bottom of a glass or your fingers, to a thickness of about 3/8”.  Sprinkle the cookies with a light, light dusting of salt.  (The original instructions call for salting the cookies before flattening them; if you use a fine salt, this will work well.  If your salt is a little more coarse, like mine, you might find it easier to flatten, then salt.)

Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes, reversing the sheets top-to-bottom and front-to-back after about 6 minutes.  Once you pull them from the oven, leave them to cool completely on the baking sheets.  Decant into an airtight container.

Note: The original recipe specifies baking them until they’re “light golden brown.” The first time I did this, I got nervous, and ended up with cookies that were delicious, but slightly underbaked.  On the next batch, I baked them for 15 minutes, until the bottoms were slightly darker (not burnt, though).  By pushing the baking time a bit, I was able to get a deeper, more caramel flavor from them, reminiscent of salt caramels, which just might be my favorite sweetie of 2008. A cookie full of the things I love—oats, cashews, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt—baked to a salt caramel flavor palate:  what more could a nice cup of tea ask for?

extreme cashew, salt and oat closeup action

Posted by Bakerina at 01:35 PM in • (0) Comments
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