A few years ago I had a delusional idea that I would start baking at regular intervals. Cinnamon rolls, bundt cakes and scones would permeate my house with deliciousness. I ordered several books for the highly motivated pastry chef with a combined weight of my entire family, an extravagance I rarely used. I didn’t have the time to fiddle with butter frosting with hungry kids at home, kids whom I most definitely did not want to see on a sugar high (no, not for their health, but for mine).
When I did attempt baking, it wasn’t worth the effort. One of the reasons perhaps was the variability in the ingredients. Even with precise measurements, cakes often rose to lofty heights before crashing down to reality. But there was something else. Despite growing up in New York for most of my childhood and munching on Hershey Bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, my preferences had changed. Living in the Middle East for so many years, I’d choose almonds over peanuts and ganache over butter cream. This wasn’t only limited to me. When Elite, an Israeli food company, produced a peanut butter flavored chocolate bar it didn’t go past the introductory phase.
Israel is inspired more by European dessert styles than American. This is partly because of its proximity. Twenty years ago there were very few options in Israel for those who wanted to pursue a career in culinary arts. Lacking professional pastry schools they traveled to France, England or Italy to gain expertise. Of course there are exceptions. Carine Goren, Israel’s baking guru, loves to create regional twists of American favorites while embracing her love for halva and rosewater. Middle Eastern and Eastern European sweets have integrated into Israeli cuisine early on, popularized by immigrants and the regional Arab population.
Several of my American books have been relegated to the coffee table, clean and glossy as ever, yet one has become my favorite: Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme , written by Dori Greenspan. Its French influence caters to local taste while metric keeps it accessible (I have long forgotten what an ounce is). With luxurious photographs and precise, well thought out recipes, it’s a fun book to leaf through on a Sunday afternoon yet a practical kitchen companion.
Chocolate Icebox cookies
This recipe is from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé by Dori Greenspan.
2 ¾ (385 grams) cups flour
1/3 cup (35 grams) unsweetened cocoa (Dutched-processed
1/2 cup +2 tablespoons sugar (125 grams)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
285 grams butter (For those who don’t have a scale, Americans use 2 ½ sticks butter and for Israelis it is between 1 ½ and 1 1/3 of the large packages)
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
Granulated sugar for coating
Sift all the dry ingredients together. Using a mixer with a paddle attachment beat the butter until soft and then gradually add the sugar and vanilla until smooth but not airy. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture and mix gently until incorporated. Do not over beat since this will destroy the cookies’ crumbly texture (closing the mixer was harder than I thought since my six year old wanted to let it rev).
Divide the dough in half, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Divide each ball into two and on parchment paper roll the pieces into circular logs (with a diameter of about 3-4 cm across). If the batter is hard to roll, let it rest for 10 minutes at room temperature to soften. Make sure that that the width is even throughout. Repeat with the remainder of the cookie batter.
For convenience, they can be stored in the freezer at this point and baked at a later date (best within the month) or placed in the refrigerator to cool for one hour before continuing. If storing in the freezer, wrap each log with plastic wrap, twisting the ends like a gigantic candy.
Heat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Line two baking trays with parchment paper.
Whisk the egg yolk in a bowl and pour about ½ cup of granulated sugar in a large tray. Remove the logs from the refrigerator (if they are removed from the freezer let them rest at room temperature for about 10-20 minutes so they defrost slightly and are easier to cut).
Brush the logs with egg yolk (don’t dip since too much egg yolk will stick) and the roll it around the sugar to coat evenly, pressing if necessary. Cut the log into 1 1/2 cm thick pieces and place on the lined baking trays.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until they resist slightly when touched. Remove the parchment paper to a cooling rack to cool. Don’t try to remove individual cookies right out of the oven as they might crumble.