A klutzy cook bakes delicious cookies

AlmondCrescentsI’ve been in the kitchen for what seems like forever. Not without mishaps and crises, or it wouldn’t be me. I like to cook, but I don’t do it very often. Rarely do I prepare something without either burning myself or adding some of my colorful blood to what I’m slicing. It takes me longer than it should, and I have a husband who’s an excellent cook and enjoys (usually) doing it.

ChocGingerBut this year my dormant domesticity impelled me to make cookies for the holidays. I’ve been baking butter cookies, almond crescents (recipe below), pecan  puffs and iced almond strips, all treasured recipes from Henny Krieger. When I was growing up, she made the best cookies I’d ever tasted— and I’m a cookie monster. Years later, Henny told me how to make them myself. She was an admirable woman: she worked and kept house AND raised five children singlehandedly after her husband David died at what even then was a very young age.

But, back to the mishaps: I was pulling a tray of beautifully shaped almond crescent cookies out of the oven and the foil slipped off the tray and onto the side and back of the hot oven, along with the cookies, of course.  The oven is gas, so the inside is not a smooth box like electric ovens. The cookies went into all the grooves and crevices. I had to stop baking to clean up the mess— not easy— I had to remove the hot floor of the oven. I knew that any cookie crumbs left would burn and the smell would spoil anything else I baked.

The following weekend I’d recovered sufficiently to brave batches and batches of chocolate ginger cookies. If you love dark chocolate, these are dangerously amazing. Years ago, Martha Stewart gave my husband a tin of those cookies in return for a favor he’d done for her. They were fabulous, and I never forgot them. Years later, I finally googled until voilà! I found them. They are a little complicated to make— at least for me— so I haven’t made them very often. They are chewy and spicy and definitely worth the effort. I’ve printed the recipe below. If you make them, let me know what you think.

But the chocolate cookies presented me with two crises on two separate occasions. As I was making the dough the first time, I noticed the mixer was making a strange noise. Sure enough, there were marks on the bowl and the paddle where they were rubbing together. How could this happen? Examining the bowl, I found a dent and remembered that I had indeed dropped it, probably more than once.

Very carefully, padding the bowl inside and out, I banged out the bump, not completely, but enough. Or so I thought. The mixer I have has to be raised, and as I did that, I heard a clunking noise, worse than the ding-ding-ding I’d heard earlier. The dough was only half made, but I couldn’t continue. I couldn’t understand how I’d made the situation worse. I went to the computer, which was set up on the other side of the kitchen and started shopping for that very specific bowl. You’d be amazed— at least I was— at how many different bowls KitchenAid makes, each with a slight difference for myriad slightly different models.

And then a very unusual thing happened. My husband, who like most men, refuses to read manuals, studied the booklet and found what looked like the answer to the problem. It involved no more than turning a screw. My husband also pointed out that the clunking I heard wasn’t coming from the paddle at all. Problem solved, but not without stress and wasted time.

Today I baked more cookies, and this time it was the chocolate ginger cookies that slipped off the rack. In some ways this crisis was worse that it had been with the butter cookies, because the chocolate was gooey and found even more crevices in the oven. When the oven was cool enough, I removed the door and cleaned up most of the mess.

My good friend the artist, who is also one of the best cooks I’ve ever known, gave me her recipe for a cake my husband likes. “Very simple almond cake” she calls it, and it would have been, if I hadn’t tried to be a little fancy (the whole thing is done in a food processor). I buttered the tin very generously as instructed, and lined sides and bottom with sliced almonds. (That was the fancy part.) When I inverted the pan to release the cake, it didn’t budge. So I shook the pan and banged it a little and— the center came out. The top was nice and brown and looked very nice, if you didn’t mind the outside ring missing. But I minded. I dislodged the circumference of the cake from the pan without doing too much damage. After patching up the two pieces, it looked a little homemade, but it was still appealing and delicious.

For a change of pace, I made mini pissaladières. This Provençal kind of pizza is delicious if you like caramelized onions, Niçoise olives, goat cheese and anchovies. They went off without a hitch.

Henny’s Almond Crescents / Vanilla Horns

¾ cup shelled & skinned almonds
2-¼ cups flour, sifted
½ cup sugar
½ lb. sweet butter
Vanilla sugar (vanilla bean & sugar in a jar) + 2 Tb granulated mixed together

  • Skin almonds in hot water
  • Grate almonds
  • Mix ingredients and work dough until soft and holds shape when formed.
  • Refrigerate
  • Form into ball and roll ball back and forth between palms until right shape. Form crescent and place on greased cookie sheet.
  • Bake in slow (300° tops) until right color (not brown, just pale) (10-15 minutes). Let set for a few minutes and then roll in vanilla sugar while still hot.

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

Makes 2 dozen

7 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate
(I used Ghirardelli 60% dark chocolate chips)
1-1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup dark-brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1. Line two baking sheets with parchment or foil. Chop chocolate into 1/4-inch chunks; set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and grated ginger until whitened, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Add molasses; beat until combined.

3. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1-1/2 teaspoons boiling water. Beat half the flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in baking-soda mixture, then remaining half of flour mixture. Mix in chocolate; turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pat dough out to about 1 inch thick; seal with wrap; refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or more.

4. Heat oven to 325°. Roll dough into 1-1/2- inch balls; place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Roll in granulated sugar. Bake until the surfaces crack slightly, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

They are very soft and gooey when they come out of the oven, but they firm up as they cool.

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