June 9, 2012

Croquant cookies

Croquant means "crispy" or "crunchy" in French and that goes a long way towards describing these cookies.  I made hazelnut croquants here but you can also opt for the more typical almond version.  These cookies are - like their name - crisp and crunchy, made very simply with egg whites, sugar, a bit of flour, and the toasted nut of your choice.
I didn't come across these cookies when we were in Paris recently, although I guess it's possible I saw them but didn't think much of it given the array of colorful pastries everywhere.  I actually read about these online in an article about Parisian sweets and was surprised to find out that David Lebovitz has a recipe for them in his book, Ready for Dessert.  I'm a big fan of the man and that book but I never noticed this cookie recipe since there's no photo of it and the name didn't resonate with me (until now). 
There are a few things that appealed to me about these cookies.  1) They only take a handful of ingredients and are super easy to make.  You toast and chop some nuts and the batter is a simple stir and drop affair that you can bake immediately.  No need to whip the egg whites, either.  They remind me of tuiles but even easier, I think.  2) These are fairly low-fat, with no butter or oil in the recipe except for what's coming from the healthful nuts.  3) I love nuts and here's another chance to showcase it.  And 4) I'm told they're delicious and who am I to resist delicious and easy at the same time.
These are very cool cookies - slightly caramelized, while the egg whites create a crisp, crunchy but yet light and airy texture to them.  They really are utterly simple to make and I love the fact that you can store the batter in the refrigerator for up to a week and bake them a bit at a time.  The simplicity of the ingredients lets the flavor of the toasted nuts really pop against a backdrop of slightly caramel flavor.  I made them with hazelnuts but would gladly try almonds next time, maybe with a dash of almond extract thrown in.  Almond croquants would actually be very similar to the amaretti crisps I've made before - just a whole lot easier.

These cookies go quite well with a bowl of ice cream, as a crunchy and light contrast against the rich and creamy (just ask my son).  I'm glad I gave these a try.

Making the croquants begins with almonds or hazelnuts.  In this case, I went with hazelnuts.  I made half a recipe and made them a bit larger than the recipe suggests (I got about 20 croquants) and started by toasting 45 grams of hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes or so.  I recently found some blanched hazelnuts (skins off) and snapped them up.  Roughly chop the toasted nuts very coarsely - into halves or thirds.
Once the nuts are taken care of, the rest is a breeze.  Add half a cup of sugar (again, for half a recipe) and 2 3/4 tablespoons flour to a small bowl. 
Whisk the flour and sugar together before stirring in an egg white and a small pinch of salt.  Stir together until the batter is thick and smooth.  Then, stir in the chopped hazelnuts.  And the batter is done!

Instead of level teaspoons, I wanted to make the cookies a little bigger so I scooped somewhat heaping teaspoons onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.  Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes, rotating midway, until the cookies are lightly browned (watch them closely towards the end to make sure they don't over-brown).
Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheet and they will peel away from the parchment paper without a problem.


From Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

- Up to 60 cookies (but depends on the size you make them) -

1 cup sugar
5 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup egg whites (about 2 large egg whites)
Pinch of salt
3/4 cups (90 g) almonds or hazelnuts, toasted and very coarsely chopped into halves or thirds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (silicone baking mats are not recommended here since the croquants won't be as crisp).

In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar and flour together.  Then stir in (I use a rubber spatula) the egg whites and salt until the mixture is smooth.  Stir in the almonds or hazelnuts.

Drop level teaspoons (or heaping teaspoons if you like them a little bigger like I do) onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway.  The cookies are don when they are lightly brown (be watchful so they don't over-brown).  Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheets; they should come right off the parchment paper when cooled.

The baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.  The batter can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or frozen up to a month.  Let the batter come to room temperature before spooning and baking.

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