I’ve been referred to as a professional student. Upon completing my undergrad, I went on for an MA, then another MA, and now I’m in the latter stages of my PhD. So I’ve been living something of a student lifestyle for a long time. But, a few years ago, as I approached 30, I determined that, while the student lifestyle has its appeals, I could no longer sustain myself on ramen noodles, TV dinners, and canned goods so I began to teach myself how to cook and bake. I’ve found baking is more my jam. I like cooking, don’t get me wrong. But, as someone who wasn’t quite comfortable with recipes that required me to determine amounts of things on my own, I found baking and its reliance on exact amounts to be comforting.
If you follow a baking recipe exactly, it’s difficult to fail. Of course, the flip-side is that one small error (an error you may not even be able to identify) could result in a ruined batch of what would’ve been tasty treats. I also really liked the way the apartment smelled with something baking in the oven. And fresh cookies or cake were always awesome with a cup of tea or coffee on those cold days of winter. I also think baking is one of the ways that I snared Jess.
This past Valentine’s Day, Jess bought me some baking stuff.
One of the things she got me was a book with the best cookies recipe from Gourmet magazine from each year of the publication’s run, 1941-2009. We decided it might be fun if I were to go in order and bake each recipe and blog about it. Hopefully you, Last Call readers, will find this helpful. I’m no expert on baking so I’ll share my difficulties and various things I had to look up in the process.
I also don’t own all that fancy schmancy equipment (not even a stand mixer), so if you have just the basic tools, you’ll be able to bake the same stuff I do. I’m sure I’ll have some struggles and whatnot along the way, but, at the very least you will hopefully find these posts entertaining. So, without further ado, let’s take a trip back to 1941…
The first recipe is for Cajun Macaroons. Here are the ingredients you will need:
½ pound almond paste 3 egg whites ½ cup pastry flour, sifted ½ cup granulated sugar ½ cup powdered sugar
If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of almond paste or pastry flour. If you live near a decent grocery story, I’m betting you can find almond paste in the baking aisle. At my local supermarket, it came in a little round can, as you can see. My store didn’t have pastry flour. But, according to the recipe itself, cake flour can be substituted for pastry flour. Some folks on the internet suggest mixing cake flour with all-purpose flour to get the protein level right or using all-purpose flour in a pinch. I just used cake flour so can’t attest to how those other options will work.
1. Preheat your oven to 300.
2. Beat the almond paste until smooth. In the food processor-less days of 1941, you would work the almond paste with a wooden spoon (when you see the consistency of almond paste you will see how difficult this would probably be), but the helpful editors of the book have added a note to use a food processor. Smooth is a relative concept, but as it’s a pretty dry substance, it won’t get completely smooth. Just grind it until it’s more paste-like.
3. Put the almond paste in a large mixing bowl. Add your three egg whites (if you don’t know the egg-white drill, crack an egg and pour the contents back and forth from either hand to hand or shell half to shell half, letting all but the yolk drain out). Then blend it thoroughly (as you can see, I used the hand mixer).
4. Set the egg and almond paste mixture aside for the moment. In another bowl, add the sifted cake or pastry flour. I don’t own a sifter so when something is to be sifted, I just use a fork or a whisk, and that method has been successful thus far. Once you’ve sifted your flour add the granulated and powdered sugar and sift it all again.
5. Add flour/sugar mixture to the almond paste/egg mixture and stir. If you have a stand mixer, then use that, but it’s too thick to use a hand mixer (trust me, I’ve learned the hard way about using a hand mixer for things like this). I just stirred with a wooden spoon. It wasn’t too difficult to get it all blended, and, just think, you get a good forearm workout in the process!
6. Once you’ve gotten it all good and blended (basically make sure it’s all consistent and batter-y), cover your cookie sheet(s) in parchment paper and drop the batter onto it. The recipe also says you can use a “cookie press” (no clue what that is) or a pastry bag and tube. I found it best to drop some from the tip of a spoon. Once I had it all down, I shaped them roughly into balls with my hands. The batter is sticky, so either put a bit of flour on your hands or just prepare to wash them a couple times throughout (which is what I did). Put them in your preheated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes.
7. While you’re waiting, have a drink. I opted for a Smithwick’s. The recipe calls for leaving them in for about 30 minutes, but I pulled them out around 23-25 minutes and the bottoms were already burning. I think this is more an issue with my old cookie sheets so it probably won’t be an issue for you, but nonetheless I’d recommend starting to check on them after 20 minutes.
8. Let them cool a bit, but while still warm you can start removing them with a spatula. The recipe says that you should end up with about 4 dozen 1 ½ inch cookies. As you can see above, mine were larger than that so I ended up with 27. Other than the burned bottoms on a few of them, they turned out quite well. Jess and I have been enjoying them for the past few days. They have a subtle smell and flavor of almond (obviously) and have an interesting texture, being both crisp and chewy at the same time.
I found the difficulty level to be pretty low so if you aren’t a confident baker, this is a good recipe for you. Enjoy, and I’ll see you in two weeks when we will see what the best of 1942 holds for us (alert to the historians: it involves WWII and sugar rationing!).