January 2, 2013

Time to give "world peace" a try

In the days when we used to watch beauty pageants on TV, I couldn't help but roll my eyes at those contestants saying their ultimate wish was..."world peace".  Those ladies may have been wiser than I gave them credit for though because, all kidding aside, I say give us all peace and serenity, i.e., security and happiness, in 2013 and beyond.  While I might not be able to deliver this grand objective to you, I can make cookies (and so can you!).
If you're a baker, a lover of pastry, or follow food blogs, chances are you've heard of Dorie Greenspan's "World Peace Cookies", originally called "Korova cookies" which were created by French pastry master, Pierre Hermé (or if you're my 7-year old, you call him "Pierre-re Her-may").  We took a family trip to Paris last April and got a chance to sample his famous macarons as well as chocolates.  One of the reasons I'd like to go back is to taste Hermé's pastries, maybe even these very cookies, because it just so happened that none of his shops we went to stocked pastries and we didn't have time to make a special pilgrimage for them.

Unlike Hermé's ultra elaborate and intricate pastries, these cookies are something we can all make at home.  They are chocolate sablés, the French version of shortbread cookies with a signature sandy texture, although these are more complex than that.  Like American icebox cookies, this cookie dough gets rolled into a log and sliced before baking.  Sounds fairly straightforward but is this cookie worthy of its title - as though a cookie could be so good as to induce world peace?  Well, many people have raved about them (hence, the lofty title) and I finally had a chance to judge for myself.  What better time to try "world peace cookies" than at the start of a New Year...
My take: these really are some special cookies!  First off, I'm not sure what it is (there are no mystery ingredients) but this cookie dough smells amazing before, during, and after baking.  And the texture is what's outstanding.  My husband and I don't think we've ever eaten a cookie with quite this texture before.  There is the sandy element as you'd expect from a sablé (literally translated into "sand" in French) but it's also moist, soft and a bit chewy in a way that reminds me of a brownie (particularly when still slightly warm)!  The fleur de sel - that flakey, coarse French finishing sea salt - dances on your tongue and makes the whole thing all the more interesting.

I think a dark chocolate sablé is unusual in and of itself (there's even brown sugar in it) but this cookie really has a very attractive and unusual combination of textures and flavors.  It looks dark but it's not too dark; it's also not too sweet, the sweetness balanced by unsweetened cocoa and bittersweet chocolate bits.
So I've concluded that world peace, in any form, is a very good thing...

Baking Notes

- This is my first post of 2013!  I still really enjoy doing this.  I've mentioned not long ago that I'm no longer going to post redundant pictures of melted chocolate and get into too much nitty gritty of the recipe.  However, I'll take this space to go over any interesting/unusual parts - if any - of a recipe, or share any tips I learned or problems I had from making it. -

Now despite my intention to not post too many of the same pictures, it's hard to resist pictures of chocolate (for me).  The butter and chopped chocolate you see below is enough for half this recipe, or to make one log of cookie dough as opposed to 2 as per the recipe.  If you want to experiment with European butter like I did, here's a good recipe to do that with.
The dough is easy to mix together.  There's butter, flour, cocoa powder, brown and granulated sugars, as well as chocolate and sea salt.  What I'd point out is there's no egg or egg yolk involved and the finished dough is rather dry and sandy looking, like this:
You're not supposed to work the dough much after the dry ingredients are added so don't mix any further than necessary to incorporate the flour.  Since it is crumbly, the dough is a little tricky to work with but it helps to expect that going in.  I think I read Dorie say somewhere online that making sure you use Dutch-processed cocoa powder (rather than natural) helps since the alternative will make it even dryer. 

I turned the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap first and used the plastic to press the dough together into a clump or mound.  It does come together, though you'll have some crumbly bits trying to fall off.  I only had one log to work with so I didn't need to divide the dough in half.  I took the clump of dough and started pressing it out into something resembling a log.  I actually just kept pressing, packing, and turning it so that it's in a square cube shape first.  If I'd try to roll it into a round log straightaway, it would've broken apart on me.
I wrapped my square log in plastic wrap, tightening/twisting the ends.  Then, I proceeded to roll the log on the counter to make a round log. 

I highly recommend saving your paper towel rolls and storing your icebox or slice-and-bake cookies in there.  It keeps the dough log perfectly round in the fridge and you make sure it's at that 1 1/2 inch diameter you want.  This was the first time I did this and it worked like a charm.
Some of the dough will break off when you slice them into 1/2 inch thick rounds to bake.  Just press them firmly bake into place with your fingers.  Space them at least an inch apart since the cookies will spread.
Some of the edges of my cookies spread a bit more than I would've liked (I tried both parchment paper and a silicon mat for baking - results were the same) so keep an eye on them, baring in mind that Dorie says no more than 12 minutes at 325 degrees.  The issue could've been my oven, which has not been reliable of late - the door won't close tightly!  I think it's beyond repair and I think there's a new oven in our future in 2013...


World Peace Cookies (also Korova Cookies, so named after the restaurant Pierre Hermé created these cookies for)
From Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan, with some of my notes

- For approximately 36 cookies -

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces (I used 70% bittersweet chocolate)

Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda together in a bowl.  Put butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until butter is soft and creamy.  Add both sugars, the salt, and vanilla extract and beat for another minute or two.  Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients.  Mix until just incorporated, as the dough is best when worked as little as possible once the dry ingredients are added.  The dough will look crumbly.  Add chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate. 

Turn the dough out onto a work surface (I placed it on top of plastic wrap) and squeeze it together so that it sticks into a large clump.  Gather it into a ball and divide the dough in half.  Working with one piece at a time, shape the dough into logs 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Flatten it once or twice as you roll to make sure there are no air pockets in the log.  (Since the dough is rather dry and crumbly, I found it easier to first press it together so that it's first a square cube.  Then I wrap it in plastic, twisting and tightening the ends, and roll it on the counter into a round log.  I then also fit the log into an empty paper towel roll so that it stays round in the fridge.)  Repeat with other log, and chill wrapped logs for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

Before baking, preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, slice logs into rounds 1/2 inch thick.  Press any broken off bits of cookie dough or chocolate pieces back into the cookie, if necessary.  Place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them about an inch apart. 

Bake in the center rack of the oven, one sheet at a time, for 12 minutes.  The cookies will not look done, nor feel firm.  Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let cookies stand until they are only just warm or come to room temperature.  Repeat with remaining cookies.

Baked cookies will keep for up to 3 days, stored in an airtight container at room temperature.  The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 1 month.  Bake frozen dough without defrosting, adding 1 minute to the bake time.

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