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A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus Walk Into a...Conversation with Renee Erickson

BoatWhaleWalrusRenee Erickson has earned local and national accolades for her Seattle restaurants over the last couple of years and this fall penned her first cookbook which we promptly chose as a Best Cookbook of October and recently a Best Cookbook of 2014

A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus--named for three of her restaurants: Boat Street Cafe, The Whale Wins, and The Walrus and the Carpenter--is a collection of seasonal menus with personal stories, lots of extras (how-to make a nice cheese plate, favorite holiday wines, intros to local purveyors and family, etc.,), and absolutely gorgeous photographs. It's a cookbook you want to own yourself and also give to your favorite people.

Like the restaurants that inspired it, A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus is relaxed, friendly, and strikingly elegant.   I met up with Erickson a little while ago at The Whale Wins to talk about cooking, restaurants, and what's next.


Seira Wilson:  You own four restaurants and a food truck now, was it easier/less stressful to open the third and fourth restaurant vs. the first?

Renee Erickson: My life’s changed so dramatically since we opened Boat Street, even four years ago when we opened Walrus, that was the big push.  I think more mentally and emotionally because the business itself is packed with stress. 

It was hard to not be at Boat Street all the time, that was the biggest challenge, it was hard to let other people make decisions and be creative and do stuff, but at the end of the day it’s your name and reputation and so that was challenging. 

IMG_2329Then you get really emotionally attached to your guests and you miss them and want to see them and for a long time it was hard, I felt like I was disappointing everyone a little bit because I couldn’t be everywhere. But I think you just kind of get used to it over time. 

Opening two was hard, opening this one [Whale Wins] was much  harder--it’s easy to split your time between two places, but having a third was..for all of us, Jeremy (my business partner), Chad and I, we all were like "whoa" [laughs].  We opened up thinking we could do things the same as the other two but we couldn't so we've been building our infrastructure. With two [restaurants] one of us could be there all the time, but now we need to have people available to do all the things we did and help manage the behind the scenes stuff.

SW: What's a typical day for you?  Do you go to certain restaurants on certain days or..?

RE:  Historically I sort of had a schedule, but now with the book...and with Whale and Walrus there have been lots of photo shoots, stuff for magazines, and that takes priority over my schedule and kind of dictates where I am right now.   It's good, it's exciting, it's always different.  Now it's more that I feel like I'm letting my staff down if I'm not there enough.  We did a photo shoot for Art Culinaire, that was super exciting and stressful because it's sort of a fancy food magazine that I was like, "really? you want me in it?"  because the one that's out right now is all full of Thomas Keller, so I was really nervous and spent two long days getting everything ready and right but it was great, everything turned out really well.

SW: When does that come out? 

RE: April, their 114th issue, it’s all about oysters, so we did a lot of cool dishes. 

SW: It's been so amazing, Bon Appetit Best Restaurant...

RE: I know, two years in a row, it sort of blew my mind. I'm definitely surprised by it all. I've sort of been doing the same thing all along, but I think the timing, all the food mania, is now.

SW: Where do you go, or what do you make at home, at the end of a long night when you’re starving?

RE: If I go out after a long night it's Delancey.  At home, sardines--canned sardines.  Historically, probably cheese and crackers--whatever cheese is in the fridge, glass of wine. Or really plain pasta--something simple.  If it’s in the summer, tomato and basil, or whatever’s around.  Anchovies and chilies.  Love canned sardines.

ClamsSW: Do you have a favorite recipe from A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus?

RE: That’s hard--it’s like your favorite kid or something. It was so much fun. Things I eat the most?  The clams, something I crave and want to eat all the time [Manila Clams from the Sunday at Home chapter]. I love rice pudding, this one’s crazy delicious [Honeyed Rice Pudding Pots from the Lummi Island Spot Prawn Dinner chapter].  Doesn’t photograph well but…  And probably the Messy Spot Prawns.  Sort of last meal food would be the Spot Prawns and...the Côte de Bœuf with Anchovy Butter, which I love. 

SW: Was there anything you had to leave out, the hard cut?

RE: I feel like this was just scratching the surface of what I love, but when we made the outline for the book it was just super easy.  I thought about it for so long that eventually when I sat down with Jess and we thought about it organized by season then it became really obvious which recipes, or events, or menus had been important enough to not let anything else compete with them.  So that part  was really satisfying, to have it come together as a full plan.  It felt really satisfying and comfortable to know it came together easily, without a lot of torture over whether to include this or that.

SW: Do you want to write another cookbook?

RE: Yeah, I would want to do another one.  I think I’d probably like to do more seafood focused, a lot of oyster stuff, I think would be really fun.  Seafood and maybe more preserving stuff because we spend a lot of time doing that too.  Not together, but...you know [laughs]. 

Photos from The Whale Wins

Wine at The Whale Wins
Renee Erickson with A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus
Danny Clinch
Renee with parents Jim and Shirlee
Wine at The Whale Wins
Wine at The Whale Wins
Danny Clinch

Camille Styles Holiday Party Idea: Cookies and Cocktails May Be Consumed

CamilleStylesEntertaining'Tis the season for holiday parties and who better than Camille Styles to offer some smart ideas for keeping it festive.  Styles has a very popular lifestyle blog and the author of a new book, Camille Styles Entertaining: Inspired Gatherings and Effortless Style (one of our Best of 2014 in Crafts, Home & Design).  

The book has party ideas for every season so we asked her to share one for the holidays.  As it happens, she wrote about hosting a Holiday Cookie Swap Party just as we finished 12 days of cookie recipes. Cookies and cocktails--I'm so there.


This cookie swap party is one of my favorite gatherings in my new book, Camille Styles Entertaining: Inspired Gatherings and Effortless Style. The book features fresh, inspirational party ideas for every season. Brimming with creative hors d'oeuvres and cocktail recipes, floral design tips, and inspiring table designs—it’s a guide to the simple details and creative shortcuts that make everyday moments feel special.

CamilleStylesCookieSwapIEvery December, my dear friend Myra throws an all-girls cookie swap (with strict instructions to leave the kids and husbands at home!), and we all gather at her house for an afternoon of great company, glasses of bubbly and, of course, way too many sweets! It’s a holiday tradition that all her guests have come to look forward to each holiday season, and this year, I decided to host my own sugar-fueled version.

Here’s the way my cookie swap works: each guest brings a big batch of their favorite homemade holiday cookies with recipe cards to pass around, and at the party, are given a “to-go” box in which they collect a sampling of everyone else’s signature treats. After a couple hours of mixing and mingling, the ladies leave with a box of two dozen or so different kinds of cookies to sample, and (if they’re feeling generous) share with family and friends! It’s a delicious, and slightly dangerous, way to kick off the holidays, and guests are guaranteed to discover a few new recipes that are destined to become family traditions. CamilleStylesCookieSwapIII

The Menu
This party is all about indulging: taste-testing lots of different cookies and saving healthy eating resolutions for the new year! Before everyone showed up, I set up a cookie buffet with a few of my family’s favorite cookies, then let guests add to the mix as they arrived with their creations. One of the great things about a display like this is that it can be completely prepared and set out before the party, allowing me to be hands-off and sip prosecco with my girl friends!

Get the look.
One of my favorite things about having a party around the holidays is that my house is already all decked out! Candles flickering on the mantle and greenery garlands in the entranceway already set the tone for a festive gathering, so all that’s left for me to do is setup the cookie buffet and adorn the table with pinecones and evergreen branches.

I approach designing the buffet just as I would any other focal decor element, considering the colors and proportions of the serving pieces, and using natural elements to add interest and fullness. When choosing serving pieces, I always look for ways to vary the levels of the different pieces — it gives a balanced feel, and it’s much easier for guests to reach the different platters on the table when they’re not all at the same height. For this display, I incorporated a beautiful mix of cake stands and tiered pieces — some new and some collected from thrift stores through the years — that literally elevate the cookies to an artistic display.

Copper and evergreen.
For the simplest, classic holiday look, we filled a vintage copper pitcher with loads of red Ilex berry branches and placed it on the center of the cookie buffet. Change the water and snip the bottom of the branches once a week, and this arrangement can last all the way through the holiday season!

When creating a vignette with flowers and natural elements, think in terms of three’s for the most pleasing arrangement. We combined a single stem peony, a cluster of festival bush branches in an aged copper vessel and a little grouping of pine cones that filled in any gaps. To finish the look, we laid down a “runner” made from cedar branches interspersed with pine.

CamilleStylesCookieSwapII

Better with Cocktails.
Create a festive atmosphere with a bubbly bar — champagne, prosecco or cava will do the trick just fine! Set out glasses so guests can help themselves, and place skewers of sugared cranberries nearby for the ultimate seasonal stir stick. To make them, boil equal parts sugar and water until sugar dissolves, then submerge cranberries in the simple syrup. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a cooling rack, and allow to dry for an hour. Roll cranberries in a shallow bowl filled with sugar to coat, then allow to dry completely.

Packing it all up.
It’s crucial that your guests have the right-sized vessel for toting home all their cookies… and it’s nice if it’s cuter than a ziploc baggie! I love to collect vintage Christmas tins at antiques stores throughout the year; they make a really special party favor that guests can use to pack up all their cookies. You can also find sturdy cardboard “to-go” boxes at restaurant supply stores - just line them with tissue paper and seal with a sticker or tie with twine. Give guests a couple sheets each of parchment paper to be used as liners between layers, protecting the more delicate cookies.

 

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Giada, Ina, Ree, Dorie and More

Now that we've shared the favorite holiday cookie from 10 different popular cookbook authors and 2 amazing bakeries, the only question is what to make first? 

All are mouth-watering and alone or collectively will be a hit this holiday season.  In case you missed a day somewhere along the line, here are all 12 days:12DaysCookiesCollage

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Ladurée's Quintessentially Christmas Macaron

LadureeMacarons For the last of our 12 Days of Cookie Recipes we've chosen the much lauded macaron from Ladurée Macarons .  Here's why this is the book for such a recipe: in the middle of the twentieth century, Pierre Desfontaines, cousin of Louis Ernest Ladurée, created the first Ladurée macaron by having the genius to stick two macaron cookies together and fill them with a flavorful ganache.  Since that pivotal patisserie moment, Ladurée has created a new flavor of macaron every year, and in this beautiful book you can see the recipes for 80 of them.  

When this package landed on my desk I had to show it to everyone around me because it's so gorgeous. The book itself comes in a square box (with the cover you see here) folded into tissue paper just like a box of chocolates.  Except instead of chocolates it's a lavishly photographed, gilt-edged book of Parisian bakery goodness.  As the final cookie for our 12 Days of Cookie Recipes, what could be better than Ladurée's Quintessentially Christmas Macaron?

Quintessentially Christmas Macarons
Makes approx. 50 macarons
QunitessentiallyChristmasMacarons
Prepare: 1 h 10 min
Cook: 14 min
Refrigerate: 1 h + 12 h minimum
 
Chocolate Ganache

  • 10¼ oz (290 g) dark chocolate (70% cacao)
  • 4½ tbsp (70 ml) heavy (whipping) cream
  • 7 tbsp (100 ml) orange juice
  • 7 tbsp (100 ml) tangerine (clementine) juice
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise

Macaron Shells
Basic recipe: Chocolate Macaron Shells (see below)
 
Equipment
Small saucepan
Piping bag fitted with a ½ inch (10 mm) plain tip
 
1. Prepare the chocolate ganache filling.  Use a knife to finely chop the chocolate; place in a bowl.  Put the cream, juice and spices into a small saucepan and bring to the boil.  Set aside to infuse for 15 minutes.  Heat again until simmering then, strain.  Add the hot cream-juice preparation to the chocolate in three parts. Stir well with a wooden spoon after each addition until the ingredients are well blended.  Cover with plastic wrap (cling film) placing it directly on the ganache.
 
2. Cool the ganache at room temperature.  Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm enough to be piped.
 
3. Make the chocolate macaron shells (step by step photos p. 294).
 
4. Spoon the chocolate ganache into a piping bag fitted with a plain tip.  Pipe a small mound of filling on the flat side of half the shells, and cover with the remaining shells.
Refrigerate the macarons for a minimum of 12 hours before serving.

Chocolate Macaron Shells
Makes approx. 100 shells
Prepare: 50 min
Cook: 14 min
 

  • 2½ cups + 1 tbsp (260 g) ground almonds (flour)
  • 2 cups + 1 tbsp (250 g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar
  • 2½ tbsp (15 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2¼ oz (65 g) dark chocolate (70% cacao)
  • 6½ egg whites at room temp.
  • 1 cup + 1 tbsp (210 g) castor sugar

Equipment
Food processor
Digital candy thermometer
Whisk + flexible spatula
Piping bag fitted with a ½ inch (10 mm) plain tip
 
1. Combine the ground almonds, confectioner’s (icing) sugar and cocoa powder in a food processor. Pulse to a fine powder then, sift. Melt the chocolate in a heat resistant bowl, placed overa slowly simmering bain-marie (or in a microwave) until warm, about 95 °F (35 °C)
 
2. In a clean dry bowl, gently whisk the 6 egg whites until foamy. Add a third of the sugar; whisk for about 1 minute until dissolved. Add half the remaining sugar; continue whisking for 1 minute. Add the rest of the sugar, whisking for about a minute until firm, glossy peaks form. Pour the melted chocolate into the egg whites. Use a spatula to roughly incorporate it then, gently fold in the sifted almond-sugar-cocoa mixture. In a small bowl, whisk the ½ egg white until frothy; stir into the chocolate macaron shell batter to moisten and soften it.
 
3. Spoon the batter into a piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and pipe small, well spaced 1½ inch (3-4 cm) rounds of batter onto it. Lightly tap the baking sheet on the work surface to spread the rounds. Set aside uncovered for 10 minutes to allow a crust to form. Preheat the oven to 300 °F, 150 °C, or gas mark 2. Bake the shells for 14-15 minutes.
 
4. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, carefully lift the corners of the parchment paper, and using a small glass, pour a little water between the paper and the hot baking sheet. Do not use too much water or the shells will become soggy – the humidity and the steam produced will help remove the shells more easily when cold. Carefully lift half the cold shells off the parchment paper and place, flat side up, on a plate.

 

Macarons_Pkg

Ladurée Macarons was chosen as one of our editors' picks for the Best Cookbooks of December.

In case you missed it, here are our previous 12 Days of Cookies posts:

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Gina Homolka's Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Walnuts

Gina Homolka singlehandedly changed how I feel about low-calorie food with The Skinnytaste Cookbook.  Now Homolka is really blowing my mind with her cookie recipe below (also from the cookbook), that contains avocado instead of butter.  Shut the front door! you might say--or something like it--but it's true.  And if this cookie is anywhere near as good as her other lightened up recipes, it's going to be the best guilt-free holiday cookie around.

These Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Walnuts are rich, chewy and chocolatey –everything I love in a cookie!  But what I love most about them is I swapped the butter for healthy fats (mashed avocado) but I swear you would never know!! --Gina Homolka


Double Chocolate Chunk Walnut Cookies
Makes 24 cookies

I’ve done some crazy, unconventional things in baking, but using avocados in place of butter may just be the craziest. Believe it or not, it works! For these chewy cookies made with chunks of chocolate and walnuts in every bite, I use absolutely no butter. They taste too good to be light—and you can’t detect the taste of avocados at all. I tested these out on many unsuspecting adults, children, and teens, and everyone loved them. Karina, my college-age daughter, was the ultimate test—she’s a true chocoholic. She thinks they’re pretty awesome!
DoubleChocolateChipWalnutCookies_Homolka

  • Cooking spray or oil mister (optional)
  • 1⁄2 cup raw sugar
  • 1⁄3 cup unpacked dark brown sugar
  • 1⁄4 cup mashed avocado
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1⁄2 cup (65 grams) white whole wheat unbleached flour (I recommend King Arthur)
  • 1⁄3 cup (50 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1⁄3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Trader Joe’s)
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1⁄3 cup semisweet chocolate chunks
  • 1⁄2 cup finely chopped walnuts


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 regular baking sheets with silicone baking mats (such as Silpats) or lightly spray nonstick baking sheets with oil.

In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, whisk together the sugars, avocado, applesauce, egg white, and vanilla until the sugar dissolves, about 2 to 3 minutes.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Fold in the dry ingredients with a spatula in two additions. Using a spatula, fold in the chocolate chunks and walnuts. The dough will be very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 15 minutes.

Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls about 1 inch apart onto the prepared baking sheets and smooth the tops. Bake until almost set, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes on the pan, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Per serving (2 cookies)
calories 152
fat 5.5 g
saturated fat 1.5 g
cholesterol 0 mg
carbohydrate 25 g
fiber 2 g
protein 3 g
sugars 15 g
sodium 48 mg


Gina Homolka is the author of The Skinnytaste Cookbook, one of our Best Cookbooks of 2014.

Skinnytaste GinaHomolkaIn case you missed it, here are our previous 12 Days of Cookies posts:

Anita Diamant on Her Latest Book, "The Boston Girl"

The Boston GirlAnita Diamant is the best-selling author of The Red Tent, now a Lifetime miniseries. In The Boston Girl--one of our Best of the Month picks for December--Diamant traces the life of Addie Baum, a Jewish woman coming of age in the early twentieth century.

The ideas/sparks/inspirations for my novels come to me randomly. I picked up a booklet in a Gloucester bookstore and discovered the history of the oldest settlement on Cape Ann and The Last Days of Dogtown followed. On my first visit to Israel, a tour took me to a living history museum called Atlit, where Jewish settlers were interned by the British authorities after the end of World War 2, and that was the source of Day After Night.

The working title for The Boston Girl was Rockport Lodge.

I’ve been vacationing in Rockport, Massachusetts since the early 1990s and must have driven past the place hundreds of times. A three-story white clapboard farmhouse with a sign out front, “Rockport Lodge” looked like many bed-and-breakfasts in town.

But one morning, I spotted a friend walking out the front door and pulled over. Pattie was working as Rockport Lodge’s cook that summer and she told me it was nothing like the other inns. It had been founded in the early 1900s (1906 in fact) to provide inexpensive chaperoned holidays to city girls of modest means. The policy remained “women only” and the prices ridiculously low. In 1990 it was $35 a day with free meals for women earning less than $12,400. Turned out, I had friends who stayed there. “Rustic” is how they described it.

During the 1990s, I watched the Lodge fall apart. The paint peeled, the shutters broke and the lawn got shaggy. In 2002, the windows stayed dark and weeds sprouted in the gutters. The wooden annex – a long, shotgun arrangement of guest rooms behind the big house--sagged and sank and looked like it might blow down in the next Nor’easter.  

The main building, built as a farmhouse in the 1750s, was much sturdier, but it was in bad shape, too. I peered through windows and shredded curtains into dusty common rooms. A set of Blue Willow china was displayed in the dining room. There were puzzles and books stacked on shelves and magazines open the occasional tables in the front parlor, where an old upright piano enjoyed pride of place. Hand-lettered signs were tacked up beside an old black wall telephone near the front door. The place was like one of those old steamer trunks full of secrets.

The perfect setting for a novel, right?

I tracked down the Rockport Lodge archives, which are housed at the Schlesinger Library on the History of American Women at Harvard University: forty- seven boxes filled with fundraising letters, brochures, housekeeping minutia, newspaper clippings, board meeting agendas and scrapbooks. The scrapbooks are yellowed and brittle, scrawled with spidery signatures, inside jokes and pledges of undying friendship. There are also pictures of girls lined up in ankle-length skirts, girls lounging on Good Harbor Beach in daring 1920s swimsuits, girls wearing boxy shorts and bobby socks. The clothes are a fashion timeline and tell a story about profound changes in American women’s lives.

In 2006, Rockport Lodge was sold and the land subdivided. The original farmhouse is back in private hands and has an open floor plan and a kitchen with granite countertops. The only clue to its history is a small sign over the front door, which being is slowly erased by the seasons.

And now, The Boston Girl.

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Ina Garten's Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I love Ina Garten's cookies--one of my favorites is her ginger molasses cookie that uses chunks of candied ginger.  Of all the cookies in her repertoire I was really curious to see which one she would pick as her holiday favorite so I was pretty delighted when it turned out to be a cookie inspired by a beloved Seattle confectioner.  Garten's Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk cookie below also shows up in her new cookbook, Make It Ahead.  A stash of these cookies in my freezer sounds like a brilliant idea...

This may be my favorite cookie of all time; ever since I tasted Fran’s Salted Caramels from Seattle, I’ve been obsessed with the combination of sweet and salty.  This cookie has it all – the texture of a great oatmeal cookie with sweet chocolate chunks, tart dried cranberries, lots of good vanilla, and the sea salt sprinkled on top wakes up all the flavors.  This is a cookie that both adults and kids will love for the holidays! -- Ina Garten


Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Makes 28 to 32 Cookies

Oatmeal cookies or chocolate chunk cookies—which would my friends like best? How about both together? Some dried cranberries for tartness and a sprinkle of sea salt make these my all-time favorite cookies.

  SaltyOatmealChocolateChunkCookie_InaGarten500H

  • ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1¼ cups old-fashioned oats, such as Quaker
  • ¾ pound bittersweet chocolate, such as Lindt, chopped in chunks
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries
  • Fleur de sel

 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 3 sheet pans with parchment paper.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. On low speed, add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl again.

Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix in the oats. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Don’t overbeat it! With a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate and cranberries until the dough is well mixed. With a 1¾-inch ice cream scoop (or two spoons), scoop round balls of dough onto the prepared sheet pans. Sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until nicely browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: If you prefer cookies thin and crisp, bake them straight from the mixing bowl. If you prefer them chewy in the middle and crisp outside, chill the balls of dough.

MAKE IT AHEAD: Scoop balls of dough, place in sealed containers, and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost and bake before serving. Baked cookies can be stored in plastic bags and reheated for 5 minutes at 350 degrees.


Ina Garten is the author of several best-selling cookbooks, including her most recent, Make It Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook -- one of our editors' picks for the Best Cookbooks of 2014.

MakeItAhead

In case you missed it, here are our previous 12 Days of Cookies posts:

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Dorie Greenspan's Fruit and Nut Croquants

I recently had the chance to attend a cooking demo by Dorie Greenspan as part of her book tour for Baking Chez Moi, and I was struck by how much knowledge and good humor is packed into one tiny woman.  We watched as Greenspan (assisted by an accomplished local chef) made gorgeous Crackle-Top Cream Puffs and a Tarte Tropézienne.  It was an amazing experience and I left truly inspired to bake.  Greenspan has cooked with the best of the best--Julia Child and Daniel Boulud, to name just two.  What's her holiday cookie of choice?  Here's what she picked and why.

Fruit And Nut Croquants, a French cookie, have the good looks and great texture of biscotti, but because they're only baked once, it takes half the time to make a batch, no small thing during the busy cookie-baking season. I love the texture of these cookies: mostly crunchy and then a little chewy when you get to the dried fruit. I love the flavor: not too sweet and just a little spicy, if you'd like. And I love their play-aroundability: you can make these cookies a house special by using whatever combination of fruits and nuts you like and by adding different spices, a little citrus zest or even a little orange-flower water, the way they do in the South of France. Whatever you do, you'll have a cookie that's easy and quick to put together; fun to make (anytime you can get your hands in the dough, it's fun); good with coffee or tea, and just as good with red wine or dessert wine; and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser – I know, because I've been pleasing crowds with this cookie for years chez moi.-- Dorie Greenspan


Fruit and Nut Croquants
Makes about 30 cookies


The word croquant can be both an adjective and a noun. As an adjective, it’s easy: It means “crunchy.” As a noun, it can be confusing: It usually refers to a cookie, but there are bunches of cookies that carry the appellation and, depending on who’s making them and where, the cookies can vary in size, shape, flavor and degree of croquant-ness. Say croquant, and most French cookie lovers think of the ones from the south of France, which are usually studded with whole almonds and flavored with orange-flower water.GreenspanFruitandNutCroquants

However, the croquants that really caught my attention came from a small bakery in Lyon. The Lyonnaise cookies weren’t flavored with orange-flower water—in fact, I didn’t detect any flavoring at all—and in addition to lots of almonds, they had other nuts and dried fruits. They looked similar to biscotti or mandelbrot, the Eastern European version of the double-baked sweet, and while they were called croquant, they didn’t quite live up to their name (or their nickname: casse-dents, which means “tooth breakers”)—they were crunchy on the outside and just a little softer and chewier on the inside.

I’ve flavored these with vanilla, but if a whiff of orange-flower water appeals to you, go ahead and add it. When I’ve got oranges in the house or, better yet, tangerines or clementines, I add some grated zest whether I’m using vanilla or orange-flower water, or a combination of both. As for the nuts and dried fruits, I leave their selection up to you, although I think you should go heavier on the nuts than the fruit. For sure you should have whole almonds (preferably with their skins on), but you can also use cashews, walnuts, (skinned) hazelnuts, macadamias or pistachios. Similarly, while I often add golden raisins, there’s no reason not to consider dried cherries, pieces of dried apricots or even slim wedges of dried figs.

  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg white, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)
  • Finely grated zest of 1 tangerine or orange (optional)
  • ¾ cup (150 grams) sugar
  • 2 cups (272 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
  • Pinch of ground cloves (optional)
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) dried fruits and whole nuts (see above)
  • Sugar, for sprinkling


Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Put the eggs and egg white in a liquid measuring cup, add the vanilla and the almond extract, if you’re using it, and beat the eggs lightly with a fork, just until they’re foamy.

If you’re using grated zest, put it in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl in which you can use a hand mixer. Add the sugar and, using your fingertips, rub the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist and fragrant (or just add the sugar to the bowl). Add the flour, baking powder, salt and spices, if you’re using them. Fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, set the bowl on the stand and turn the mixer to low, just to blend the ingredients. If you’re using a hand mixer, just use a whisk to combine the ingredients.

With the mixer on low, steadily pour in the eggs. Once the dough starts to come together, add the dried fruits and nuts and keep mixing until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. You’ll probably have dry ingredients in the bottom of the bowl; use a flexible spatula to stir them into the sticky dough.

Spoon half the dough onto the lined baking sheet a few inches away from one of the long sides, and use your fingers and the spatula to cajole the dough into a log that’s 10 to 12 inches long and 2 to 2½ inches wide. The log will be rectangular, not domed, and pretty rough and ragged. Shape a second log with the remaining dough on the other side of the baking sheet. Leave space between the logs—they will spread as they bake. Sprinkle the logs with sugar.

Bake the logs for 45 to 50 minutes, or until browned and firm to the touch. (If you want the croquants to be softer and chewier, bake them for 40 minutes.) Place each log on a cutting board, wait 5 minutes and then, using a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, cut into slices about ½ inch thick. Transfer the slices to a rack and allow them to cool to room temperature.

Serving: It’s hard to resist dunking these cookies, so don’t. They’re great with coffee, tea, red wine or dessert wine.

Storing: Moisture and crunch don’t mix, so find a dry place for these. A cookie jar, tin or storage tub works well, but because they’re meant to be hard, I just keep them in an uncovered bowl or basket. Yes, they get firmer, but I’m fine with that. If your cookies lose their crunch, heat them in a 350-degree-F oven for about 10 minutes.

Excerpted from BAKING CHEZ MOI, © 2014 by Dorie Greenspan.
Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.


Dorie Greenspan is the author of numerous cookbooks, including her most recent, Baking Chez Moi: Recipes From My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere--one of our editors' 20 Best Cookbooks of 2014 picks. 

BakingChezMoiDorieGreenspan

In case you missed it, here are our previous 12 Days of Cookies posts:


 

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Joy the Baker's Melty Chocolate Truffle Cookie

Joy Wilson, a.k.a. Joy the Baker, is a woman who knows how to make life a little sweeter with the help of butter, sugar, chocolate, marshmallow, caramel or...well, you get the picture.  So what cookie does someone who bakes every day want to make for her friends and family?

“The holidays require a bit of decadence. These Melty Chocolate Truffle Cookies are my favorite thing to gift during the holidays because they’re simple, rich, stay moist and tender on a pretty cookie plate, and they look like they’re covered in a light dusting of snow.  Adding a dash of peppermint extract makes them the perfect Winter holiday treat!” --Joy Wilson


Melt-y Chocolate-Truffle Cookies

Let’s be the kind of people who throw dinner parties with matching china. Let’s be the kind of people who don’t knock over their wine glasses during a very animated reenactment of their favorite scenes from Anchorman (because, yeah, we’re still talking about that movie). Let’s be the kind of people who have coffee brewed and little dessert cookies ready for serving. These are them. Good luck with the wine spill.MeltyChocolateTruffleCookies_JoyTheBaker

 

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup (about 3 ounces) chopped dark chocolate (I used a 70% cacao chocolate)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

 

 

 

 

1. Put racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder, if using. Add the butter and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be relatively dry and resemble breadcrumbs. Add the chopped chocolate and toss well.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture and stir with a fork until the mixture is slightly moistened. Use your hands to press the dough into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

4. Put the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and shape it into tablespoon-size balls. Generously coat the balls, one at a time, in the confectioners’ sugar and place on the prepared baking sheets. Leave about 2 inches of space between each cookie. Bake until the cookies are just set, but still slightly undercooked on the inside, about 10 minutes. Let cool on the pans for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Serve warm (preferably right after dinner).

The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Makes about 18 cookies

 


Joy Wilson is the creator of the popular blog, Joy the Baker, and the author of two cookbooks on baking, including Homemade Decadence, where you'll find the cookie above (Homemade Decadence was one of our Best Cookbooks of October).

JoyWilson HomemadeDecadence

In case you missed it, here are our previous 12 Days of Cookies posts:

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Rose Levy Beranbaum's Ischler Cookie

Day 2 of our 12 Days of Cookie Recipes is from a maven of baking, Rose Levy Beranbaum, a woman who wrote the book on Christmas cookies--literally.   

At the end of October, Beranbaum released her latest cookbook, The Baking Bible and it's in those pages that her favorite cookie can be found.  Below is a note from Rose Levy Beranbaum about what makes this the cookie above all others for her, followed by the recipe.   Come see us tomorrow for the next cookie to try. 


IschlerCookies_RoseLevyBeranbaumI first heard of the Ischler when I learned to make strudel at the Zauner bakery in the town of Bad Ischle where the cookie originated. I also learned of the story of emperor Franz Joseph and how he claimed to be visiting this bakery while instead clandestinely rendezvousing with his mistress nearby.

I researched different versions of the cookie in cookbooks and on line and came up with my own version. Rather than dipping the apricot-sandwiched cookies in chocolate the way all the other versions do, I spread a thin layer of it over the apricot filling so that one would have the crisp fragile almond cookie, the tang of apricot, and the bittersweet chocolate with every bite.  I also love that the Ischler speaks to my Austro-Hungarian heritage. My great great grandfather, Adolf Lansman, fought in Franz Joseph's army. He later came to America and brought the now ubiquitous Heckel's and Wusthof knives to this country. He taught my father the art of knife sharpening and my father passed this valuable skill onto me. -- Rose Levy Beranbaum

 

The Ischler
Makes Forty 2. inch sandwich cookies
Oven Temperature 350°F/175°C
Baking Time 6 to 10 minutes for each of four batches

This Austrian cookie ranks as one of the finest of all time. It was created in the wonderful Zauner Bakery in the spa town of Bad Ischl, which was said to be the favorite vacation spot for Emperor Franz Joseph. The classic method is to sandwich the fragile, thin almond cookies with apricot lekvar or preserves and then to dip the cookies halfway into melted chocolate.

Because I am one-quarter Austro-Hungarian (my great grandfather fought in Franz Joseph’s army), I feel I am qualified to adapt the recipe slightly by spreading the melted chocolate onto the entire inside of the cookies so that I have the glorious taste of apricot and chocolate with every bite.

Special Equipment:
Two 15 by 12 inch cookie sheets, nonstick or lined with parchment
A 2 ½  inch scalloped or plain round or heart-shape cookie cutter

Cookie Dough
VOLUME   /  WEIGHT

  • unsalted butter, cold 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) /  8 ounces  / 227 grams
  • powdered sugar 1 cup (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off) plus 2 tablespoons /4.7 ounces / 132 grams
  • sliced almonds, preferably unblanched / 2 cups/  7 ounces /  200 grams
  • about ½ large egg, lightly beaten / 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (20 ml) /0.7 ounce / 21 grams
  • pure vanilla extract 1 teaspoon (5 ml) / . .
  • bleached all-purpose flour 1 ¾ cups (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off) plus 1 tablespoon /7.8 ounces / 220 grams
  • fine sea salt ¼ teaspoon / 1.5 grams


Make the Dough
Food Processor Method:
Cut the butter into ½ inch cubes and let the cubes soften slightly while measuring out the remaining ingredients. The butter should be cool but soft enough to press flat (60° to 70°F/15°to 21°C).

Process the powdered sugar and almonds until the almonds are very fine. Add the butter and process until smooth and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and process until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add it to the processor and pulse just until incorporated. The mixture will be in moist and crumbly particles and hold together if pinched.

Stand Mixer Method:
Soften the butter to 65° to 75°F/19° to 23°C.

Using a nut grater, grate the almonds until very fine.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, cream the almonds, powdered sugar, and butter, starting on low speed and gradually increasing the speed to medium, until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until blended.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.

On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until incorporated and the dough just begins to come away from the sides of the bowl.

Chill the Dough: Scrape the mixture into a plastic bag and, using your knuckles and the heels of your hands, press it together. Transfer the dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap and use the wrap to press down on the dough, kneading it until it is smooth.

Divide the dough into quarters, about 6.9 ounces/195 grams each. Wrap each piece loosely with plastic wrap and press to flatten into discs. Rewrap tightly and place in a gallon-size reclosable freezer bag. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours or up to 2 days to firm and give the dough a chance to absorb the moisture evenly, which will make rolling easier.

Preheat the Oven: Twenty minutes or longer before baking, set an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.

Roll and Cut the Cookies: Remove a dough disc from the refrigerator and set it on a lightly floured surface. Lightly flour the dough and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough soften for about 10 minutes, or until it is malleable enough to roll. Roll the dough ⅛ inch thick, moving it from time to time and adding more flour if necessary to keep it from sticking.

Cut out twenty 2 ¼ inch cookies. Set them a minimum of ½ inch apart on a cookie sheet.
Set aside any scraps, covered with plastic wrap, to knead together with the scraps from the next three batches.

Bake the Cookies: Bake for 4 minutes. For even baking, rotate the cookie sheet halfway around. Continue baking for 2 to 6 minutes, or just until they begin to brown at the edges.

Cool the Cookies: Set the cookie sheet on a wire rack and let the cookies cool for about
1 minute so that they will be firm enough to transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Use
a pancake turner to lift the cookies onto another wire rack. Cool completely.
While each batch of cookies is baking, remove the next dough disc to soften before rolling
and then roll the dough for the next batch. After the last batch is cut, if desired, knead
together all of the scraps and repeat chilling, rerolling, and cutting.

Super Firm Chocolate Ganache Filling:
Makes 1⅓ cups/10 ounces/285 grams
VOLUME/  WEIGHT

  • bittersweet chocolate, 60% to 62% cacao, chopped / . /  8 ounces /  227 grams
  • heavy cream, hot /  ¼ cup (59 ml) / 2 ounces / 58 grams

Make the Ganache Filling In a microwavable bowl, stirring with a silicone spatula every 15 seconds (or in the top of a double boiler set over hot, not simmering, water, stirring often—do not let the bottom of the container touch the water), heat the chocolate until almost completely melted.

Remove the chocolate from the heat source and stir until fully melted.

Pour the cream on top of the chocolate and stir until smooth. The mixture should drop thickly from the spatula. Set it aside in a warm place. If the ganache thickens before all of it is used, it can be restored in the microwave with 3 second bursts or in a double boiler set over hot or simmering water.

Apricot Lekvar Filling:
Makes 2. cups/651 ml/29.6 ounces/840 grams
volume / WEIGHT

  • dried apricots / 2⅔ cups / 1 pound / 454 grams
  • water / 2 cups (473 ml) / 16.7 ounces / 473 grams
  • granulated sugar / 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons /  8 ounces / 225 grams
  • lemon zest, finely grated / 2 teaspoons, loosely packed/  ./  4 grams
  • apricot or peach brandy / 1 teaspoon (5 ml)/ . .

Make the Lekvar Filling In a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, combine the dried apricots and water and let them sit for 2 hours to soften.

Bring the water to a boil, cover the pan tightly, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes on the lowest possible heat until the apricots are very soft when pierced with a skewer. If the water evaporates, add a little extra.

In a food processor, process the apricots and any remaining liquid, the sugar, lemon zest, and brandy until smooth.

Scrape the apricot mixture back into the saucepan and simmer, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until deep orange in color and very thick. When lifted, a tablespoon of the mixture will take about 3 seconds to fall from the spoon.

Transfer the lekvar to a bowl and let it cool completely. You will need only about ⅔ cup/ 158 ml/ 7 ounces/202 grams, but it keeps just about indefinitely refrigerated. Making a smaller amount risks scorching the lekvar. Lekvar made from dried apricots is the most delicious and concentrated, but the apricot glaze that follows makes a viable alternative.

Fill the Cookies:
Using a small offset spatula or butter knife, spread the bottoms of half of the cookies, up to ⅛ inch from the edge, with a very thin layer of the apricot filling (about ½  tablespoon /3.7 ml). Spread the bottoms of the remaining cookies with a slightly thicker layer of the ganache (about . tablespoon/6 grams). Set the chocolate coated cookies, coated side down, on the apricot coated cookies. Let them sit for a minimum of 30 minutes for the ganache to set completely.

Store Airtight: room temperature, 5 days; frozen, 6 months.


Rose Levy Beranbaum is the author of several cookbooks, including her most recent, The Baking Bible, one of our Best Cookbooks of 2014.

In case you missed it, Day 1 of 12 Days of Cookie Recipes is the  Eggnog Sandwich Cookie from Ovenly bakery

BakingBibleRose Levy Beranbaum

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