At the library the other day, Josie and I browsed and then made our way to the counter, where Greg was checking out. But when we got there, he wasn’t done yet; both he and the library clerk were listening to a tiny machine crank out a yellow tape – ph-chtt-ph-chtt-ph-chtt. Greg looked at us.
“Not us! It’s yours.”
“Oh? We’ll see.”
The three of us watched the tape go up, up and over like a gymnast, finally hitting the counter in a dramatic heap.
The clerk tore off the tape and all three of us grabbed for it – Josie actually jumped for it. The clerk looked startled.
(goodbye crazy family – yeah we’re, um, closing now. Right now.)
Greg held the tape high above his head, saying in his most embarrassing dad voice, “now we will JUST SEE what we have here.”
One glance and Josie was elated – eleven dollars, some me and mostly him. It wasn’t her – no Nancy Drew under the bed, no Judy Blume behind the seats. “Ha!”
Greg produced the money – “it’s our donation to the library” – took the new books, and we left. On the way out, Josie loudly recited the shameful yellow list. Satisfied that she was least at fault, she gave it back, asking “Isn’t there some kind of day where you bring the books back and they, you know, forgive you?”
Ah yes. We all know Library Fine Amnesty Day, right? That’s the day you sheepishly put the books on the counter and say thank you, I really enjoyed The Thorn Birds…as a matter of fact, I’ve been enjoying it since 1981. Thanks!
But I have a book that I can’t bring back. One that I checked out of the culinary school library in 1993 – maybe no naming the school just now – and it just…stayed. I was exploring international cookies that semester, and liked their spritz recipe. I liked it so much that I baked those cookies….about 2,000 times.
I meant to bring it back, I did, and could have copied the recipe, I know – but that folded-down corner, buttery and torn, marks so many days in the kitchen. A lot of back page crumbs.
Forgive me, Miss Culinarian Librarian, but they piped so beautifully, browned so golden and melted on the tongue. Blame it on the spritz.
from The International Cookie Cookbook by Nancy Baggett (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1988)
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose or unbleached white flour
optional: 1/2 cup finely ground blanched almonds
decorations: pecans, chocolate sprinkles, crystallized ginger, coconut, etc.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease several baking sheets with baker’s spray (or line with parchment paper) and set aside.
Place butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with electric mixer on medium speed until very light. Add the sugar and egg yolk and beat until very fluffy and smooth. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts (and ground almonds, if using). Gradually beat in flour until thoroughly incorporated but not overmixed.
Fit a pastry bag with a large (about 3/8″ diameter) star tip. You may also use a cookie press fitted with a star or other tip.
If using a pastry bag: stand the bag, tip down, in a tall glass and turn down a deep cuff at the top. Spoon the dough into it until the bag is no more than two-thirds full. Unfold the cuff and tightly twist the bag closed at the top. Pipe 1 1/4-inch diameter rosettes onto a baking sheet, spacing about 1 1/2 inches apart.
Press any decorations – pecans, coconut, candied cherry halves, etc – into the center of each cookie, if desired.
Place in the center of the oven and bake the cookies for 7 to 10 minutes, or until slightly browned at the edges. Remove baking sheets from the oven and let cookies stand for 2-3 minutes. Then transfer them to wire racks and let stand until cooled completely.
Store in an airtight container for up to a week. Freeze for longer storage.
Make 50-60 1 3/4″ rosette cookies (fewer if using a large, open tip or press)
My notes: After making these, literally, some 2,000+ times in every shape and size imaginable, I’d like to offer a few pointers.
Mixing: Beat the butter until the color changes, until it’s nearly white and whipped so soft it makes a slap-slap sound against the bowl. After adding the flour, continue to mix and combine until it is very soft and smooth – don’t worry too much about “overmixing.” Better over than under, because you need a smooth dough that will pipe cookies without breaking your hand.
Ingredients: I never use the ground almonds – I believe the smoother all-butter version pipes better shapes. About the almond extract – a tiny amount can be very strong. If you’re one of those people who think almond extract tastes like cough syrup, leave it out.
Piping: I can’t stress enough how much more beautiful these cookies are when piped with a pastry bag, but a cookie press is also nice. If you do pipe with a bag, experiment with large rosettes, star shapes, s-shapes and horseshoes.
Decorations: There are two ways to go here, pre-bake decoration and post-bake decoration. Pre-bake might mean flaked coconut or chocolate sprinkles, or pressing crystallized ginger, pecan halves or candied cherries into centers. Post-bake includes sifting powdered sugar, drizzling simple glazes or dipping cookie ends in chocolate.
The best cookie trays have a little of both – but you know what? If you’ve no time or inclination for fuss, these cookies are absolutely perfect with nothing at all. That is the true meaning of the words all-butter – all good.