When the calendar is crowded with spring and summer celebrations, a platter of cookies infused with citrus flavors and served with a berry sauce and a dab of ice cream is as cool as a sunset or a starry sky. These elegant cookies also make for an ideal finale at bridal showers, religious celebrations, graduations, anniversaries, picnics and any impromptu gatherings with family and friends. What's more, you can embellish them with a world of flavors, drawing culinary inspiration from near or far.
For example, Lemon Vanilla Wafers laced with grated lemon rind are as at home in a picnic basket as they are presented on a crystal platter on a patio or back porch. Tea Cakes baked with crushed coriander seeds, which impart a lemon-like flavor and delectable aroma, evoke Old World elan.
Sesame Wafers owe their toothsome crunch to the toasted sesame seeds stirred into the batter. And I can hardly think of a more spirited but sweet offering than Mexican Wine Cookies, which I happened upon several years ago at a bakery in
But perhaps no cookie has been written or talked about as much as
The little oval-shaped cookies are a fine offering on a sunny day, especially when drizzled with melted chocolate, or stirred with a generous spoonful of grated orange or lemon rind before baking. Proust wrote about enjoying the little cookies dipped into lemon blossom tea.
Sesame is actually an herb, prized for its tiny seeds, which contain about 50 percent oil. The crunchy seeds bake into delectable, easy to make light, elegant cookies.
Makes about 48 cookies.
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sesame seeds
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup light or dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a heavy small skillet over low heat. Stir in the sesame seeds and heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until the seeds are very lightly toasted. Watch carefully and don't let the seeds burn. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Combine the remaining butter and sugar in a medium-size bowl. Using a handheld electric mixer at medium-high or creaming speed, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl at least once with a rubber spatula. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until smooth.
Stir in the toasted sesame seeds and mix well. Sift together the flour and salt and add to the bowl, mixing the batter only until blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough for 30 minutes to an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a rounded teaspoon of dough for each wafer, push the dough onto the baking sheet with a rubber spatula, placing the cookies about 3 inches apart.
Set the pan of cookies in the center of the hot oven on the middle shelf. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned, switching the pan around in the oven midway through the baking.
Remove the cookies from the oven and set the pan on a wire rack. Using a metal spatula, immediately remove the cookies from the pan and cool on the rack.
Bake the remaining batter in batches, one pan at a time, in the same way.
Note: If parchment paper is unavailable, bake the cookies on well-buttered baking sheets, and remove immediately from the pan after taking out of the oven, using a metal spatula to pry gently from the pan. The cookies don't stick to the parchment, but will tick to the pan, and you have to remove them quickly and carefully.
These cookies bake best in tinned steel madeleine pans with scalloped cups, which are available at kitchenware shops and departments, and online from A Cook's Wares, at about
Makes 24 to 28 three-inch size madeleines.
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon grated lemon or orange peel
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, not unbleached
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Place the butter in a small heavy saucepan or skillet and melt over low heat. Stir in the grated lemon or orange peel, the nutmeg and vanilla extract, mixing well. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool the butter mixture.
Generously butter two madeleine pans with 3-inch molds and set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Combine the eggs, sugar and salt in a large bowl or in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk or wire whip. Beat the eggs and sugar on high speed for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture is light and lemony and more than doubled in volume, scrapping the sides of the bowl several time with a rubber spatula.
Or, combine the eggs, sugar and salt in a three quart bowl, and using a hand held electric mixer, beat for 6 to 8 minutes or until light and lemony, scrapping the sides of the bowl several times with a rubber spatula.
Remove the bowl from the mixer if using a standing mixer.
Sift together the flour and baking powder, and sprinkle the flour over the beaten eggs; then carefully fold the flour into the beaten eggs and sugar. Stir the melted butter briskly and pour over the batter. Then fold the butter into the batter with six with to eight strokes, lifting the batter from the sides and bottom of the pan. Don't beat the batter after adding the flour.
With the aid of a rubber spatula, spoon a generous or rounded tablespoon of batter into each mold, filling almost to the top.
Set the madeleine pan, one at a time, on the middle oven rack and bake for 11 to 14 minutes, or until the cakes are light golden on the top but nut brown at the edges, and slightly shrunk from the pan.
Set the pan of madeleines on a wire rack for a minute or so to cool. Then immediately remove the cakes from the molds, running a thin metal spatula or knife around the edges to release the madeleines from the pan and place on another rack to cook.
Fill the second pan with the batter the same way. Or if you are only using one baking pan, wipe away any crumbs in the molds with paper toweling. Butter again, refill with batter and bake the remaining batter the same way.
QUICK CHOCOLATE GLAZE
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons orange marmalade, pressed through a sieve; or 2 tablespoons mild honey
Cut the chocolate into small pieces. Melt the butter in a small skillet over low heat. Add the chocolate and stir briskly with a whisk until melted and smooth, heating for 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in the strained marmalade or the honey and heat a minute longer, stirring.
Remove the pan from the heat and cool the glaze for a few minutes. Drizzle the baked madeleines with the chocolate glaze and let set for a few minutes before devouring.
LEMON VANILLA WAFERS
These wafers are elegant and delicious, and can be stirred together in literally minutes.
Makes 35 to 40 wafers.
1 cup unbleached or all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered confectioners sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 medium egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or more if desired
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Sift together the flour and salt, and set aside. Combine the butter, sugar and lemon peel in a large mixing bowl. Using a hand held electric mixer at medium high or creaming speed, beat until light and fluffy for 2 or 3 minutes, scraping the bowl once or twice with rubber spatula.
Add the egg whites and beat 1 minute longer, scraping the bowl as needed. Stir in the vanilla extract and lemon juice, and mix well. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour, mixing only until blended. Gather the dough into a ball in the center of the bowl.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes to an hour. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly butter a baking sheet and dust lightly with flour, inverting to shake off excess flour.
Using a rounded teaspoon of dough for each wafer, push the dough onto the baking sheet with a rubber spatula, placing the cookies 2 inches apart. Or, fit a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch tube. Fill the bag about half full with the dough. Press out strips of dough about 1 1/2 inches long for each cookie, spacing 2 inches apart.
Set the pan of cookies in the center of the hot oven on the middle shelf. Bake the wafers for 11 to 13 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and crispy, and the centers puffy and firm, switching the pan around midway through the baking.
The center of the cookies will not brown during the baking.
Remove the pan from the oven, set on a wire rack and cool the cookies for a few minutes, and then remove from the pan with a metal spatula. Cool the cookies completely on a wire rack.
Bake the remaining batter in batches, one pan at a time, in the same way.
MEXICAN WINE COOKIES
A splash of sherry or port stirred into the batter of these spirited cookies imparts a winsome flavor and blushed color.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks or 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds, blanched or with skins
4 to 6 tablespoons sweet sherry or port
Sift together the flour and salt, and set aside. Combine the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Using a hand held electric mixer, beat the mixture on high speed for about 2 minutes or until light and fluffy, scarping the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
Stir in the egg and beat again until well blended, scraping the side of the bowl again. Add the chopped almonds and mix well again.
Using a large spoon, stir in about half of the flour and mix well. Then stir in 4 tablespoon of the sherry and the rest of the flour, and form the dough into a ball, adding the remaining sherry if needed.
Dust the ball of dough lightly with flour if it sticks, wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or until the dough is no longer sticky and is easy to handle.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter 2 butter sheets and set aside. Divide the dough into four quarters and return three of the pieces back to the refrigerator.
Lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the dough on the floured surface to about 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch cookie cutter, cut the dough into circles and place an inch or so apart on the baking sheet.
Set one pan of cookies at a time in the center of the hot oven on the middle shelf and bake for about 10 minutes or until just lightly tinged with brown, turning the pan around in the oven midway through the baking.
When done, remove the pan of cookies from the oven, set on a wire rack for a few minutes, and then remove the cookies from the pan with a metal spatula and set on another rack to cool.
Bake the remaining cookie dough in the same way.
CORIANDER TEA CAKES
These aromatic cookies pack well and are ideal for picnics and beach outings, as well as for home entertaining.
Makes about 24 cookies.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 to 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (3/4 cup), softened
1 1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
2 tablespoon sugar for sprinkling, preferably crystallized sugar
Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Lightly toast and then finely crush or grind the coriander seeds. Set aside 1 teaspoon of the coriander seeds to use as a topping. Combine the remaining seeds, butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
Using a held electric mixer at medium-high or creaming speed, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice. Add the egg and vanilla extract (or the lemon or lime juice), and beat until well-blended.
Using a large spoon, stir in the flour and mix only until blended. Form the dough into a ball, dusting lightly with a little more flour if sticky.
Wrap the dough in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about 2 hours or until the dough is firm and easy to handle.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a baking sheet. Divide the dough in half, and return one piece back to the refrigerator.
Lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the dough into a circle about 1/4-inch thick and about 8 inches in diameter. Using a 2 1/2-inch cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds.
Place the cookies about 2 inches apart on one of the baking sheets. Combine the remaining teaspoon of coriander seeds with the sugar and sprinkle each cookie with about 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar-spice mixture. Gently press the topping with your fingers so that it sticks.
Set the pan of cookies in the center of the hot oven on the middle shelf. Bake for 11 to 14 minutes or until the bottoms are just lightly brown and the cookies are pale golden around the edges, switching the position of the pan around in the oven halfway through the baking.
Remove the cookies from the oven and set the pan on a wire rack. Cool the cookies for 5 minutes on the pan and then remove from the baking sheet with a metal spatula. Cool on a wire rack. Bake the remaining dough in the same way, one pan at a time, rerolling scraps.
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