I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I attended a couple of cookie swaps during the holiday season. In truth, I not only attended one, but also help volunteer/host another one at 18 Reasons, a community space run by the Bi-Rite Market earlier this month. It was their DIY Dessert night, a monthly event held on the second Thursday of the month. And, of course, for the month of December the theme of the evening was Holiday Cookies Exchange! Everyone was instructed to bring three dozen of their favorite holiday cookies and exchange it with other DIY dessert makers to create a cookie assortment. Since I was helping run the night with my fabulous co-host Melanie (who showed me the ropes on how to be the hostest with the mostest), I figured I better bring a decent looking cookie. So I made a variant of these Pain d’Épice Cookies that I saw over Leite’s Culinaria. I mean really, once you see these, how could NOT want to make them?
Of course, being the ridiculous person that I am, I decided to play around with them and see if I couldn’t shift the flavor profile to something a little more my liking. I’ve never been a huge fan of rye flour, thought I know that the rye flour is pretty important to the flavor of regular Pain d’Épice (it’s a holiday bread made in France with rye and honey). So I couldn’t just take out all the rye flour. But I could temper it a little with some other flours that I had around the house. Because, you know, I have WAY too many flours here in the house.
It’s funny though, that I was recently corresponding with Dianne Jacobs about flours and baking (well corresponding is sort of loose term, as it was really me just rambling on and on in an email to her because she mentioned something about baking, and you don’t want to get me started on baking…well you know, you read this blog). I told her that one thing I learned by baking gluten free, or vegan, or anything that forces you out of your comfort zone in the kitchen, is that you start to understand that each ingredient adds something to the final end result.
Think of savory food. Alice Water really brought into the forefront the concept that each individual ingredient should add to a dish. If you start with great tasting ingredients in the beginning you will have a great tasting dish in the end. There’s no reason why that can’t translate to baked goods too. You want ALL the ingredients to be there for a reason. Too often the flour is used to just be a vehicle for other flavorings (like chocolate, lemon, sugar, butter). But there’s no reason that the flour itself can’t be a vehicle for flavor as well. Sometimes you want the flavor to be more pronounced, so you use something like rye or buckwheat or amaranth, and sometimes you want it to fade into the background, in which case you use white flour, rice flour or potato starch. Flours have flavors and they can totally change your end result, and for the better if you know how to work with them!
So I tinkered with the initial recipe. And I hoped that it would turn out, because I did it about three or four hours before I showed up to the event. Which, in the end, probably wasn’t the smartest as I still had to frost them and let them dry. Something I didn’t quite take into account in my humid damp kitchen (turning on a fan pointed at them helped).
Co-hosting the event with Melanie was a breeze though. It was the most popular one that I’ve attended since the Ice Cream Social! I think we had over 20 different types of cookies there, and we ended up running out of serving platters and had to double up cookies on them. The table was PACKED with amazing gorgeous delights and the small 18 Reasons event was just filled with people socializing, eating cookies and talking about their cookies.
The cookie ranged from the basic (but much beloved) chocolate chip cookie and peanut butter cookie to things like matcha green tea brownies, to Ranger cookies (a popular mid-century cookie made with the secret ingredient of…lard!) to coconut macaroons covered in caramel toffee and banana whoopie pies!
Some of the classic holiday cookies were there with a twist, like chocolate fudge cookies with almond and irish cream (I called the Chocolate Crackles, but I’ve heard them called Chocolate Crinkles as well), festive yuletide toffee bars, and the chewy molasses ginger cookies.
Chocolate was definitely present with a number of chocolate cookies like the aforementioned chocolate chip cookies as well as the double chocolate shortbread with sea salt, brownies with mint frosting and a mint chocolate “grasshopper” bar. There were a few oatmeal cookies as well as some lovely melt in your mouth shortbreads.
And, of course, there were some great “healthier” cookies like the sand cookies made from the book Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce (anyone interested in baking with different flours than just all purpose white flour should check out that book. It’s awesome). My pal Nimisha of Club Dine In totally brought a healthy cookie too, a pistacchio chocolate cookie which was totally not healthy tasting! Ha! She said that she hadn’t baked a cookie in about 10 years, so I was pretty impressed with the outcome!
I met some pretty awesome people there and some of them even helped us clean up the space after everyone left (Thanks Barbara Koh! You rock!). All in all it was a super successful cookie swap and everyone left with some amazing cookies to take home and enjoy! The gift that keeps on giving I guess!
My cookies were totally gone halfway through the event. I thought about making a new batch for AJ and my annual holiday party (another post for another time) but in the end I never got to them again. But there totally going in my arsenal of cookie recipes, because not only do they look fantastic, but they taste pretty darn good too!
As for the next 18 Reasons DIY Dessert event, it will be held on the evening of Thursday, January 13th between 7 and 9 pm. The theme is Something New! Since it’s the New Year, we want everyone to bake something they haven’t baked before! Everyone’s scared to bake a new recipe for the first time. Now you can use that night as safe place to share your new concoction (good or bad!) and get advice and friendly feedback from others about your results!
If you have any questions about baking a new dish, or need hints or tips, feel free to post a comment or email me and I’ll respond back as soon as I can. Hope to see you guys there!
Pain d’Épice Cookies
These cookies are adapted from Leite’s Culinaria, who in turn got them from The Gourmet Cookie Book. They were inspired by Pain d’Épice bread, which is a traditional French holiday bread that is traditionally made with honey and rye flour (you can check out David Lebovitz’ recipe for it).
I’ve adapted it to create a cookie somewhere between a shortbread and a soft cakey cookie, one that has a bit of a dense bite when you put it in your mouth, but then crumbles and fall apart all over your tongue. They are fairly delicate so when you glaze them you’ll want to be careful that the glaze isn’t too thick, or else the cookie stick in the glaze and fall apart. The cookies look more complicated to make than they really are, it’s just they have a few unique ingredients that you might not have in your pantry. But trust me they are worth getting.
The cookie dough also needs at least 8 to 12 hours rest in the fridge for the flours to hydrate and the spice flavors to deepen. Keep that in mind.
Pain d’Épice Cookie
140 g graham flour
105 g rye flour
35 g buckwheat flour
35 g mesquite flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground all spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground or grated nutmeg
3/4 tsp sea salt
finely grated zest of 1 medium lemon
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter at room temperature
96 g of dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp honey (I liked using a robust local raw honey blend)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Place the flours, baking powder, spices, salt and lemon zest in a medium bowl and whisk them together until they look uniform in color.
2. In a separate bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter, dark brown sugar, honey and vanilla together until creamy and fluffy, about two minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg and beat until it is incorporated. Turn the mixer speed to low and add the flour until combined. The dough will seem sticky, which is how it’s supposed to be.
3. Take a sheet of parchment paper placed on cookie tray or baking sheet and scrape the dough out onto it. Place another piece of parchment paper on top of the dough and then roll out the dough until it is about 1/4” thick (roughly a 10” square).
4. Move the cookie tray/baking sheet to the refrigerator with the dough on top of it. Let it sit for eight hours or overnight to let the flours hydrate and the spices to deepen.
5. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and cut 1/2” strips of dough using a sharp knife, pizza cutter or pastry wheel if you have one. Then rotate the dough 90˚ and cut the strips into 2 1/2” wide cookies. You should have cookie dough rectangles that are roughly 1/2” by 2 1/2” in size. If the dough seems to be getting too soft or sticky, put them in the fridge or freezer for a couple of minutes or until they firm up.
5. Place cookies about 1” apart on a cookie sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper. Bake for about 12 to 14 minutes or until the edges of the cookies look darker than the rest of the cookie. Remove from the oven and let it cool on the sheet for 10 minutes and then gently move them to a wire rack to completely cool.
Note 1: Flours other than regular white all-purpose flour can be hard to find sometimes. I recommend looking at the bulk food section of a health food store for specialty flours. You can often times get bulk flours cheap there and can experiment by just buying small amounts instead of investing bags of them that just end up lingering in the back of the cabinet.
Note 2: Graham flour is similar to whole wheat but a different texture. Unlike whole wheat, the wheat kernel is separated out and the endosperm is ground finely into white flour. The bran and germ are coarsely ground and then the combined back in with the white flour. If you don’t have graham flour you can use whole wheat flour, but keep in mind the cookie won’t have the same crumbly texture.
Note 3. I used buckwheat flour in this recipe because the original Pain d’Épice bread calls for buckwheat honey, a very dark amber honey that is comparable to molasses. Sadly buckwheat honey is pretty hard to find, but I thought the fact using the flour would be a nice nod to the origins of the original bread.
480 g powdered (confectionary) sugar, sifted
1 Tbsp Cointreau or other orange flavored liqueor
1/4 cup milk (whole or 2%) plus an additional 2 to 4 Tbsp to thin out
4 tsp of fresh lemon juice
1. Whisk the powdered sugar, Cointreau, ¼ cup milk and lemon juice together until smooth in a medium bowl.
2. Save the reserve milk on the side, and use it if you need to thin out the glaze as you dip the cookies.
Crystallized ginger, cut into 1/4” squares
Gold luster dust (optional)
1. Place a wire rack on cookie sheet or baking sheet.
2. Place a spatula in the bowl that has the glaze. Dip one cookie diagonally so that the top of the cookie gets glazed from one corner to the other. Move the cookie to the spatula and use the edge of the spatula to scrape the glaze off the bottom of the cookie.
2. Place the cookie on the wire rack and immediately put a piece of crystallized ginger on the glaze side of the cookie.
3. Let the cookies dry for about an hour (or if you have to, turn a fan on to them to help mother nature out). If using, sprinkle or brush some gold luster dust on top to make them all fancy looking. Then bring them to a party and watch people ooh and ahh over them.
Note: Edible gold luster dust can be found at Sur La Table or other speciality cooking stores. Zac Young made it popular by using copious amounts of it on Top Chef: Just Desserts and referring to it as “Disco Dust”. I am still waiting for Wilton Baking Supplies to hire him on as their spokesperson.