dark and bitter, gooey and perfect…
My close friends and family know by now that I make my own birthday treats. They also know that it takes a long time for me to come up with one.
The problem is two-fold. First, I’m not motivated by sugar the way the rest of the world seems to be. I mean, why cake when you can have cheese?
And that brings me to the second prong: my preferences tend toward the strange, if not obscene. It’s hard for me to name a truly splendid dessert that won’t totally disengage and discourage fellow mankind. At a birthday event, if the darned thing isn’t a frosting-bound mass of baked batter, people tend to have coping issues.
A dozen or so terribly impractical restaurant desserts flashed across my imaginary plate. I eliminated them fairly quickly, though I did enjoy doting on each for a second or two.
And, while my imagination was running away from me, I also briefly considered white peaches poached in Champagne, slipped out of their skins, and served chilled with sweet corn ice cream. Then I realized that neither sweet corn nor white peaches – especially – in season. And it’s best to save that tight little idea for a summer pool-side party anyway.
A tall and thick blueberry pie with Key lime ice cream popped to mind. And it lingered there awhile until I realized that I would refuse to share it. And nobody likes a selfish birthday boy.
Fresh fruit macerated in brandy also caught my fancy. But that would exclude the kiddies. And I wouldn’t want to be accused of ageism – especially not on the day in which my personal timekeeper turns my dial up a painfully noticeable notch.
Well, there’s ice cream, of course – my favorite. Almost any flavor – other than mint or rainbow bubblegum – would do the trick. But even I’ll admit that, coming from me, ice cream is simply too predictable.
Just when I was about to settle on making poppyseed streudel with almond gelato, it hit me upside my disturbed little noggin like ton of madeleines from Swann’s Way:
Before there was frais de bois with basil and olives.
Before there were prunes soaked in Armagnac.
Before there was baba oozing with dark rum.
And before there was Valdeon gelato drizzled with honey.
There were cookies and milk.
The cookie and milk experience was one of the earliest indications to me that there was a life worth living beyond baby food and formula. And now that I’m way past that threshold in life, it’s about time I dusted off that early revelation of hedonism and use it as a reminder that there are still many good things to come in my life.
Is there a particular cookie that I exalt über alles? Not really. Other than a systematic discrimination against white chocolate and Macadamia nuts, I’m fairly equal opportunity about my cookie ingredients.
Thumbing through my mental and cookbook indices, I alighted upon Elizabeth Prueitt’s “Deluxe Double-Chocolate Cookies” from the “Tartine Cookbook.” With the exception of adding large crystals of salt, I didn’t change her recipe much – it really is perfect. Rather, I personalized them – orange and dark chocolate being one of my favorite couplings – by folding in a healthy heap of chopped, candied orange peel that I had left over from my orangette-making extravaganza the week before.
These cookies are the love child of ganache and the fudgy brownie. They’re incredibly dark, unbelievably soft, and filled with gooey pockets of chocolate and the occasional nugget of sweet orange peel. This cookie threatens to collapse under its own, moist weight, which encourages a short and fast plate-to-mouth journey. Serving them warm with a glass of cold milk is mandatory.
I’m having this for breakfast today.
u.e.’s Dark and Bitter Orange-Chocolate Birthday Cookies
Adapted from Elizabeth Prueitt’s “Deluxe Double-Chocolate Cookies” from the “Tartine Cookbook.”
Yield: Approximately 36 cookies.
8 oz. of bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup + 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
½ cup + 2 tbsp. cocao powder
2 tsp. baking powder
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
½ tsp of coarse grain sel gris or other sea salt (the original recipe called for 1/4 tsp. salt)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole milk
½ batch candied orange peel, chopped (recipe follows)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
2. Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Put the chocolate into a stainless-steel bowl that will rest securely in the rim of the pan and place it over, not touching, the water. Make sure that the bowl is completely dry before you add the chocolate and that no moisture gets into the chocolate. Moisture will cause the chocolate to seize, or develop lumps. Heat, stirring occasionally, just until the chocolate melts and is smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool.
3. Stir together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder in a bowl. Set aside. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy. Slowly add the sugar and mix until the mixture is completely smooth and soft. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition until incorporated before adding the next egg. Beat in the salt and vanilla, and then add the melted chocolate and beat until incorporated. Add the milk and chopped candied orange peel and beat until combined. Finally, add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until incorporated.
4. Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake the cookies until they are just barely firm on top when lightly touched by are still very soft underneath, about 7 minutes. They will get firmer as they cool. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool. They will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.
Candied Orange Peel
Yield: 1 Batch.
3 oranges, preferably organic
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1. Remove the rind from the oranges by slicing off the two polar ends (stem and blossom ends). Score the fruit in wide strips from one polar end to the other, cutting through the rind and the white pith, but stopping just shy of the flesh of the fruit. Peel the rind and reserve the fruit for other use.
2. Put the rind in a small sauce pan. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Drain the rind and return them to the sauce pan. Repeat the boiling process twice more. Set the rind aside to cool. If there is an inordinate amount of fleshy, white pith, gently scrape it away with a spoon. Slice the wide strips into thin strips – about the thickness of a chopstick.
3. In a medium sauce pan, combine the water and sugar. Place this over medium heat and bring it to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the orange rind strips and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook the rind over a simmer until the strips of rind become translucent. The cooking time can vary depending on the thickness of the rind. This will generally not occur until the sugar syrup has sufficiently thickened. However, if the syrup has become too thick, add a little bit of water. If the white of the pith is still opaque, keep cooking. At no time should the temperature of the sugar syrup exceed 230 F (use a candying thermometer to check the temperature from time to time).
4. Once the rind is sufficiently candied, remove the pan from the heat and pour the contents into a heatproof container. Let cool completely. Store the zest in the cooking syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. When you are ready to use the rind, drain them from the syrup and let them dry on a baking rack for no less than 6 hours, but no more than 12 hours. In addition to using them in cakes, cookies, and ice creams, they can be dipped in chocolate.