I am a very, very lucky girl. Remember when I spent a day with Dorie Greenspan? Well, I met up with her again and then I wrote about it for The Forward.
See, she just published a cookbook, Baking Chez Moi, and kicked off her book tour at the 92nd Street Y where we were able to gab for a bit before she climbed onto a tall stool (she’s quite petite, so it was a bit of a climb) and chatted with Julia Moskin from the New York Times in front of a packed room.
Dressed in a royal blue tunic with black leggings and ballet flats, her bright scarf draped loosely around her neck, Dorie greeted me with one of her fabulously warm hugs.
Here are a few of my favorite Dorie-isms.
Dorie defined quality in baking as “ingredients and the care with which you make things.”
When asked whether she believes in such a thing as a “white thumb” for pastry, she responded with a resounding no. “My father couldn’t even find the kitchen and my mother made shopping lists instead of dinner. [Dorie’s father owned a supermarket in Brooklyn, and her mother would organized her grocery list by aisle]. Baking is like playing piano. At first you just make noise. But you work on it every day and you see yourself getting better. I taught myself to bake from books, learned that it takes desire to do it.”
On baking versus cooking: “I love baking. I always return to it when I’m stressed out. It’s the process, the ingredients, getting dirty, everything under my nails. I love the magic of it… You cook for yourself and other people, but when you bake, you don’t bake for yourself, you bake to share. You bake for love and for people you love.”
Reflecting on her entertaining style, Dorie said, “I’m a higgledy piggledy, loosey goosey cook at home and I think that’s how you should be!” She likes to invite people over on the spur of the moment, and even on New Year’s Eve, she rarely finalizes a menu until the day before.
I found this wildly reassuring and, when a friend told me she’d be in town visiting, I offered up chez moi for a spur-of-the-moment potluck lunch with a couple of our friends. Though my Manhattan apartment is small, can feel cramped when my hair frizzes up, and never seems tidy enough for company, I decided to make one of Dorie’s treats to share. I baked a batch of fruit-and-nut croquants, adding a handful of chocolate chips to these mandelbread-like cookies for good measure. One friend brought wine and challah. Another made meatballs. I tossed together a few small salads. We whiled away the cold rainy afternoon, catching up, sipping tea and nibbling on croquants.
I’ve copied from Baking Chez Moi Dorie’s recipe for Fruit and Nut Croquants, but have a few notes of my own. First, I skipped all of the optional flavors, so no almond extract, orange zest, nutmeg, or cloves. I made two batches and forgot to sprinkle the second pair of loaves with sugar – no biggie. I couldn’t resist a little chocolate, so for the 8 ounces of fruit and nut mixture, I used 4 ounces whole almonds, 2 ounces dried tart cherries, and 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips.
Dorie Greenspan’s fruit and nut croquants
The word croquant can be both an adjective and a noun. As an adjective, it’s easy: It means “crunchy.” As a noun, it can be confusing: It usually refers to a cookie, but there are bunches of cookies that carry the appellation and, depending on who’s making them and where, the cookies can vary in size, shape, flavor and degree of croquant-ness. Say croquant, and most French cookie lovers think of the ones from the south of France, which are usually studded with whole almonds and flavored with orange-flower water
However, the croquants that really caught my attention came from a small bakery in Lyon. The Lyonnaise cookies weren’t flavored with orange-flower water — in fact, I didn’t detect any flavoring at all — and in addition to lots of almonds, they had other nuts and dried fruits. They looked similar to biscotti or mandelbrot, the Eastern European version of the double-baked sweet, and while they were called croquant, they didn’t quite live up to their name (or their nickname: casse-dents, which means “tooth breakers”) — they were crunchy on the outside and just a little softer and chewier on the inside.
I’ve flavored these with vanilla, but if a whiff of orange-flower water appeals to you, go ahead and add it. When I’ve got oranges in the house or, better yet, tangerines or clementines, I add some grated zest whether I’m using vanilla or orange-flower water, or a combination of both. As for the nuts and dried fruits, I leave their selection up to you, although I think you should go heavier on the nuts than the fruit. For sure you should have whole almonds (preferably with their skins on), but you can also use cashews, walnuts, (skinned) hazelnuts, macadamias or pistachios. Similarly, while I often add golden raisins, there’s no reason not to consider dried cherries, pieces of dried apricots or even slim wedges of dried figs.
Makes about 30 cookies
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg white, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)
Finely grated zest of 1 tangerine or orange (optional)
¾ cup (150 grams) sugar
2 cups (272 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Pinch of ground cloves (optional)
8 ounces (227 grams) dried fruits and whole nuts (see above)
Sugar, for sprinkling
1) Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
2) Put the eggs and egg white in a liquid measuring cup, add the vanilla and the almond extract, if you’re using it, and beat the eggs lightly with a fork, just until they’re foamy.
3) If you’re using grated zest, put it in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl in which you can use a hand mixer. Add the sugar and, using your fingertips, rub the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist and fragrant (or just add the sugar to the bowl). Add the flour, baking powder, salt and spices, if you’re using them. Fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, set the bowl on the stand and turn the mixer to low, just to blend the ingredients. If you’re using a hand mixer, just use a whisk to combine the ingredients.
4) With the mixer on low, steadily pour in the eggs. Once the dough starts to come together, add the dried fruits and nuts and keep mixing until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. You’ll probably have dry ingredients in the bottom of the bowl; use a flexible spatula to stir them into the sticky dough.
5) Spoon half the dough onto the lined baking sheet a few inches away from one of the long sides, and use your fingers and the spatula to cajole the dough into a log that’s 10 to 12 inches long and 2 to 2½ inches wide. The log will be rectangular, not domed, and pretty rough and ragged. Shape a second log with the remaining dough on the other side of the baking sheet. Leave space between the logs — they will spread as they bake. Sprinkle the logs with sugar.
6) Bake the logs for 45 to 50 minutes, or until browned and firm to the touch. (If you want the croquants to be softer and chewier, bake them for 40 minutes.) Place each log on a cutting board, wait 5 minutes and then, using a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, cut into slices about ½-inch thick. Transfer the slices to a rack and allow them to cool to room temperature.
Serving: It’s hard to resist dunking these cookies, so don’t. They’re great with coffee, tea, red wine or dessert wine.
Storing: Moisture and crunch don’t mix, so find a dry place for these; a cookie jar, tin or storage tub works well, but because they’re meant to be hard, I just keep them in an uncovered bowl or basket. Yes, they get firmer, but I’m fine with that. If your cookies lose their crunch, heat them in a 350˚ F oven for about 10 minutes.
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