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Sweet on cookies
A Gourmet magazine cookbook offers a timeless variety of delectable treats
The day Condé Nast scrapped Gourmet magazine in 2009, I felt like a friend had died. The 68-year-old publication had been a part of my monthly routine for decades. Reading it opened my view of global cuisine, especially in the early years of my career.
From its pages, while still in my 20s, I learned how to make Chicken Forestiere, irresistible chicken breasts smothered in a buttery sauce laden with fresh mushrooms and bacon. Moroccan Chicken Bastilla, a rococo filo-wrapped, turban-shaped dish filled with chicken thighs, toasted almonds and cinnamon. Salmon mousse, Chocolate Chestnut Cream and a deep-chocolate jelly-roll filled with whipped cream.
Hoity-toity? You bet. I thought these dishes were fit for a king.
Several months after the magazine stopped its monthly print publication, "The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe From Each Year 1941-2009" landed on my desk. Sixty-eight years of Gourmet cookie history were captured in its pages.
Cookies need no official holiday or cause for celebration. So I embraced the cookbook and found that it was fun to bake cookies for friends and family chosen from the year of their birth.
So for my husband, Phil, a 1945 Date Bar, a post-war bar cookie that tastes like it came out of an old-fashioned grandma's farmhouse kitchen. Walnuts, graham cracker crumbs and chopped dates are the backbone of these simple treats. Moist and chewy, each nutty square is pleasantly sweet, an attribute primarily contributed by chopped dates. But brown sugar tags along, too, perhaps a 1945 tribute to the upcoming end of wartime sugar rationing.
For my daughter, Christy, a librarian, 1974 Greek butter cookies called Kourambiedes. These buttery bites combine the appealing texture of ground almonds with a kiss of orange liqueur. A frisky whole clove graces the center of each cookie; the too-tough-to-chew clove crowns are meant to be removed before eating. I consider them optional, especially when you realize that whole cloves now retail for about $12 per ounce. They look provocative, but I leave them out.
For my daughter, Alexis, a high-school teacher, 1975 Portuguese Almond Bolas, almond cookies published the year that food processors were introduced to America. I remember buying a Cuisinart that year. I still have it. It's sturdy — made with metal, not plastic. A real beauty.
I like to add a 2012 touch to these '75 cookies, sprinkling a smidgen of fleur de sel (fancy sea salt) atop each before they go into the oven. I think it gives the nutty little cookies the spark they need.
1975 ALMOND BOLAS
Yield: about four dozen cookies
3 cups ground blanched almonds, see cook's notes
1-1⁄2 cups dry bread crumbs, see cook's notes
1-1⁄2 cups granulated sugar
3 egg whites (reserve yolks), see cook's notes
1-1⁄2 teaspoons almond extract
3 egg yolks and 1 whole egg, see cook's notes
About 4 dozen whole, lightly toasted blanched whole almonds, or lightly toasted raw unblanched whole almonds
Optional: sea salt or fleur de sel
Cook's notes: For ground almonds, I bought 1 pound (two 8-ounce packages) of blanched slivered almonds at Trader Joe's, then ground them in batches in my food processor. It yielded a little more than 3 cups, but silly me, I threw it all in the cookie mixture. If you are using store-bought plain bread crumbs (not panko), buy a new package for this recipe because they tend to go stale easily. I found that my dough was too dry to roll into spheres (in Step 3), so I added 2 extra egg whites (unbeatened) and used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer to mix up the dough. It worked beautifully. In the book, they used whole blanched almonds to crown each cookie. I always have raw whole unblanched almonds in my kitchen, so I used those. I think the cookies need a little salt, so I sprinkled a little fleur de sel on them before they went into the oven.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine 3 cups ground blanched almonds, bread crumbs and sugar.
Beat egg whites in large bowl of electric mixer at high speed until they are stiff and glossy. Add extract and mix on medium speed 10 seconds, or just enough time to combine. Fold egg whites into nut mixture.
Form tablespoons of the dough into balls and place the balls on prepared sheets, placing them 2 inches apart. In a small bowl, beat together with a fork the yolks and 1 whole egg. Pressing your thumb into each cookie, make an indentation in the center (it helps to hold the cookie together if you use the opposite hand to hold the opposite side of the cookie).
Fill each indentation with beaten egg mixture (a scant 1⁄2 teaspoon for each cookie). Place a whole almond in the center of each. Bake in preheated oven for 15-16 minutes (or until they are golden and nicely browned on the bottom). Transfer to rack to cool.
1974 KOURAMBIEDES (GREEK BUTTER COOKIES)
Yield: four dozen cookies
2 cups (4 sticks) butter, softened
1⁄4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon orange-flavored liqueur or brandy
4-1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup finely ground blanched almonds
Optional: whole cloves
For dusting: powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the large bowl of an electric stand mixer, mix (cream) butter at medium-low speed until almost white, about eight minutes. Add powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, with machine running at low speed. Add egg yolk and liqueur; mix at medium speed just until blended.
In a large bowl, combine flour and ground nuts; stir to combine. Add in flour mixture 1⁄2 cup at a time, mixing at medium speed between additions to combine. Dough will be soft; if it seems sticky, chill it wrapped in wax paper for one hour.
Form the dough into 1-1⁄2-inch balls and, if desired, stud each ball with 1 clove. Place them clove-side up on prepared baking sheet, leaving a 2-inch margin between each. Bake 15 minutes, or until they are pale golden. Transfer to rack and cool for two minutes. Roll in powdered sugar.
1945 DATE BARS
Yield: 36 bars
Butter for greasing pan
1-1⁄4 cups fine graham cracker crumbs
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1-1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
1-3⁄4 cups chopped dates, see cook's notes
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup light brown sugar
Garnish: powdered sugar
Cook's notes: I used an 8-ounce bag of chopped dates (Sunsweet).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan with butter. Line pan with two criss-crossed sheets of aluminum foil, allowing a 1- to 2-inch margin of foil to come over the top edge of the pan; butter foil. Set aside.
In a large bowl, place graham cracker crumbs, salt and baking powder; stir to combine. Add dates and walnuts; stir to combine.
In a separate bowl or large bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs well (use the flat paddle attachment on mixer if using). Add brown sugar, 1⁄3 cup at a time, stirring or beating between additions to combine. Add graham cracker mixture to egg mixture and mix or beat to combine. Place in prepared pan.
Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Allow to rest 10 minutes in pan set on cooling rack. Using potholders if the pan and foil are still too hot to handle, pull foil from pan and set bars still in foil on cooling rack. Allow to cool 10 minutes.
Invert on cutting board and peel away foil. Make 36 squares by cutting six rows crosswise and lengthwise. Dust with powdered sugar; place powdered sugar in a sieve and shake over squares.