Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Of cookies and loss

One of the great chafes of life is lost food. When my family visited Italy in nineteen ninety and seven, we ate some really good cookies in Sienna. They were crisp on the outside, soft on the inside with perfect almond flavor, the kind the explodes in your mouth and then slowly dissipates. Fuckhead that I am, I failed to write down the name of the brand or even the type of cookie, and ever since whenever I visit a store selling Italian products I look for the cookies. I also ask Italians that I meet about Sienna cookies and they give me blank looks. The cookies are probably really from Palermo or something. Anyway, in addition to looking through Euro-stores, I check out cookie cookbooks. I saw something promising in the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion and made them. The cookies were okay, but not the Sienna cookies. The King Arthur book on the other hand is great. It gives lots of detail on tools, preperation, the science of cookie cooking and variations, such as how to make a cakey vs. a fudgy brownie. None of this guidance made me a better cookie chef, but I think I am missing a baking gene. When my wife made cookies from the book, they were excellent, so check it out.

8 comments:

Brack said...

T:

If the cookies were diamond/oval shaped, and crisp on the outside/soft inside they may have been "ricciarelli di siena." If they were round and more chewy, they may have been some species of macaroon from the Piedmont; check these props for the Italian Baker by Carol Field:

http://food4.epicurious.com/HyperNews/get/archive_swap30101-30200/30184/3.html


b

Tripp said...

Thanks B! I think they are Piedmontese macaroon, based on that website. They have a macaroon like taste, but more subtle and with a different mouthfeel. Now I can pester Italians for Piedmontese macaroons!

Brack said...

By the way, you're not going to go all Proustian with this cookie-from-the-past thing, are you?

Tripp said...

Wouldn't that require me to recall all the feelings I had as took each bite and then the wistful remembrance of each cookie?

No I shan't go that far, but my powerful food memory will lead me to drag to the surface all kinds of random mental flotsam and jetsam.

T

jo said...

I feel sad for your love of cookies coupled with what sounds like a lack of cookie-baking instinct. I think it can be learned, though. You have either been misguided or simply not guided at all. My skill as a cookie baker was surely born out of necessity. As a kid, we rarely had store-bought cookies, but always were stocked with cookie-making ingredients. So, when we wanted cookies, we made them. Starting from age 8 or even earlier. As a result, I cannot be satisfied with Chips Ahoy or Nutter Butters.

When I was 9, I won a trophy at the Lane County 4-H Fair for my almond oatmeal cookies. They really weren't even THAT great, but I think the judges felt sorry for me because I clearly had made them with NO HELP from parents, unlike all of the other kids. My mom was having a minor surgery that week i(n 1980) and so she just told me to look through her cookbooks and choose a recipe. The recipe came from the Junior League of New Orleans cookbook and it was a winner! Not only did I win best of the drop cookies, but also swept the entire dessert category (pies, quick breads, bar cookies, etc.) for my age group. I stil have the trophy. It's plastic silver and purple. It's pretty sad to peak when you are in the 4th grade.

Okay - so back to the point...

Were the Italian cookies like those macaroons from Pix/Bar Pastiche in Portland? Round, crispy on the outside with a little shmear of buttercream sandwiched between two halves, resembling a very tiny hamburger? In any case, those are awesome.

And further, part of being a good cookie baker is being able to spot a good recipe (or a not-so-good recipe) when you see one. I can help in this department. Also, you must NOT overbake cookies, a very common offense. As a rule of thumb, remove the cookies when it seems like they aren't quite done, because they will continue to cook as they cool on the baking sheet. Overbaked cookies suck and are a waste of time.

Have I violated a maximum blog-length rule? If so, I won't do it again...

J

Tripp said...

Jo,

Congrats on your trophy, I hope your baking has progressed since then though.

The Pix/Bar Pastiche cookies were very similar, but we had strange flavors like Port. I would need a plain one to tell if they were the things I am talking about. Get this, they were packaged cookies, but packaged cookies in Italy aren't nutter butters let me tell you.

Prizes go to the longest blog comments so type away.

T

jo said...

Yeah, the pre-packaged cookie rule does not apply to Italian or other fancy imported cookies. Or even fancy non-imported cookies. I'm only really speaking of Nabisco and the ilk. Which are good in their own way and they do have their place in the world, but it's like comparing a popsicle to homemade gelato. Apples and Oranges. Or, fresh out of the oven oatmeal chocolate chunk and Grandma's Iced Oatmeal Cookies from the big pink bag, as it were.

I think I've had this Italian cookie you speak of. Did they come in a tin with each one individually wrapped in pretty paper? It's like the consistency of the macaroon, minus the filling? Next time you have one of the macaroons, just try a flavor like cinnamon or mocha. The fig is weird. But strangely, the grapefruit one is quite delightful. Sounds gross, but it's good.

Here's something you'll just miss: The all-day grand opening party of the new North Portland Pix Chocolate Laboratory - it's this Saturday. But the place will be up and kicking (it opened Monday). There's gonna be fresh cotton candy! Plus, band called "Caught in Candy". Why couldn' t I have been the one to think of that.

http://pixpatisserie.com/news.html

So, is the prize for the marathon-length blog post a Valomilk?

J

Tripp said...

Yes, A Valomilk is the perfect prize. I am bummed I am missing that Pix party it looks sweet. It's not the pretty paper macaroon that you mentionas I have had those, but it is something similar. I think I need to go down to that deli on 10th SW that has lots of Euro food and try all the macaroons to perfectly triangulate.

Now, to the road.