Saturday, March 8, 2014

This week in the bakery… we exchange recipes

I, along with my friend Aliki Courmanopoulos, of This week in aspics blog, have embarked in a recipe exchange. The idea is that we send each other a recipe to try to bake and eat, and return with comments and recommended adjustments. 

My assignment was what I am calling Chewy Almond Tea Cookies (because they are chewy, make with almond and go very nicely with a cup of tea). These cookies are incidentally Gluten-free. 

Here's my review and recipe for Vanilla Almond Orange Cloud Cookies (original recipe is from Joy the Baker

Ali said, "Here's my recipe I want you to trial run. I made these two years ago for my christmas baskets and they did not turn out...regardless they were everyone's favorites. Note, almond paste is not marzipan.... a fact I was unawares of when I made these." 

I was a tad nervous to try Joy the Baker’s Vanilla Almond Orange Cloud Cookies, because a) even just the name has so much going on that I suspected a lot of work would be involved, b) I have tried a few Joy the Baker recipes in the past and found them pretty hit or miss. In fairness to JTB this could have been due to a loss in translation between Cups (a North American recipe measurement) and grams (an Irish/UK recipe measurement), and c) if I could not help Ali in making these cookies a success then I have failed as a professional baker. Also, can we address the fact that this recipe was adapted from King Arthur Flour, but there is no flour in the recipe? Suspicious…

Armed with Ali’s warning about Almond Paste not being the same as marzipan (which I knew but totally forgot), I trawled the Internet for a straight-forward recipe. As it turns out, almond paste has to cool before you can use it, so these cookies turned out to be a 2-day event.

I used homemade vanilla extract instead of vanilla seeds. Homemade vanilla is more concentrated than what you can buy in the store, so I’d recommend some vanilla bean paste. Using whole vanilla beans is so 2008. I used 1 large orange for the zest, not bothering to measure out how much it actually yielded. I figured while I was there, just keep zesting. I then ate the orange because it would be awhile yet until I could eat me some cookies. I finished off the cookies as the recipe instructed – “using the tips of three of your fingers, make indentations in each cookie.” I am not sure why King Arthur, Joy or I have done this, as the impact on the baked cookie is pretty insubstantial. Was the point to make them look like clouds? ‘Cause they don’t. I’d say flattening with a damp spoon, a fork or even pressing them out in one of those spritz press contraptions would be grand too. Whatever tickles your fancy.

Once baked and cooled, the cookies were DEVOURED. They were chewy, not too sweet and perfect with a cup of tea. I was teaching a gluten-free baking class that evening and, as these cookies are incidentally gluten-free I offered a taste to the students. The consensus was that these cookies are a YES.

Adapted recipe:

Vanilla Almond Orange Cloud Cookies (Can we just call them Chewy Almond Tea Cookies?)

Almond Paste (makes 400g)
125g sugar
35g honey
50g water
250g ground almond

Directions: Heat the sugar, honey and water to a strong boil. Pour over the ground almonds and beat until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Wrap in cling film and flatten to a disk. Cool overnight

250g granulated sugar
Zest of 1 large orange
1tsp vanilla bean paste
280g almond paste (which you prepared yesterday)
pinch of salt
2 large free range egg whites (or 60g), lightly beaten
¼ tsp almond extract
Icing sugar for dusting

Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F / 150 degrees C.
In a small bowl or mixer, mix together granulated sugar, orange zest, and scraped vanilla seeds.  
Add the almond paste.  Beat on medium speed creating a crumbly sugar and almond mixture.
While almond mixture is combining in the mixer, place two egg whites in a small bowl with the salt.  Whisk until loose and frothy.  
With the mixer on medium speed, gradually pour the egg whites in to the crumbly almond and sugar mixture.  Beat until a smooth paste is formed.  Add the almond extract and beat to combine.
Scoop batter by the heaping tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheet (an ice cream scooper works well for this). 
Sprinkle generously with icing sugar.  Gently press the cookies, either using a damp spoon, fork or by using the tips of three of your fingers, make indentations in each cookie.
Bake cookies for 20 to 25 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned on top.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the pan.  Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.  

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