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