Wait-- is this a chain letter?
That's what I wondered when Lucy Mercer first approached me with the idea of participating in "Bake It Forward" shortly before Thanksgiving. Yes, it took me a little time to warm up to the idea. While I would never hesitate to gratefully receive a package of Lucy's homemade delights, I needed to understand what I was signing up for. Having been burnt by participation in one too many chain letters over my gullible lifetime, I was gun shy.
Gracious Lucy answered my wary query: "I think the idea is just to bake & have fun." Oh dear, maybe I need to loosen up!
The tin, with its gossamer golden bow, has now traveled from Lucy to Lisa Kuebler, both in the Atlanta area, then across the country to Grace Hwang Lynch, not far from me in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was the lucky recipient last week of Grace's delectable cookies. When I showed the package to my kids, they asked me who it was from. "Someone from Open Salon," I said. "Huh?" they asked, confused. And who wouldn't be? The virtual world seems so intangible, but here I was, with a package in my hands.
I opened the package to see the now familiar Bake It Forward tin and a series of cards, all handwritten, one from Lucy, the next from Lisa, and another from Grace. Suddenly, my virtual community of culinary comrades practically sprang to life. Holding their handwritten notes in my hands reminded me of the letters I exchanged with the penpals I cherished as a child. Just as my childhood penpals opened my world and taught me about other cultures, so do my SKC friends, with their stories about their lives and recipes from their families.
We devoured Grace's cookies quickly, but I won't forget the moment. The virtual world, made real, thanks to a cookie, and a sweet, old fashioned idea. As inscribed on the tin, "A Cup of Kindness Goes a Long Way."
For the next Bake It Forward participant, Theresa Rice, I am sending the tin back across the country to Georgia. Theresa will be getting a trio of some of my family's favorite cookies: my sparkly sweet corn cookies from last week's SKC, some deep, dark chocolate cookies accented with salted pistachios, and salted caramel shortbread.
Thank you Lucy, Lisa, Grace, Theresa and all of my other fellow foodies on OS for a wonderful year! I wish you all a happy holiday season and a new year full of joy, sweetness, and surprises. And if anyone else is interested in sharing in the fun, please let us know in the comments.
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Bittersweet Chocolate and Salted Pistachio Cookies
This is a sophisticated take on a chocolate butter cookie. It is just slightly sweet with its base of bittersweet chocolate and is festooned with a festive salty garnish of pistachios and sparkling demerara sugar. Enjoy this with a cup of milky tea or a cappuccino. I adapted this from a recipe that originally appeared in Gourmet, 2003.
Makes 4 dozen.
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
10 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled. Use the best quality you can find-- I used Valrhona
garnishes: a few tablespoons of salted pistachios and demerara sugar
1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
2. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Add egg and vanilla to butter-sugar mixture.
4. Add in flour mixture and gently combine.
5. Add in cocoa powder, baking powder and cooled melted chocolate and mix all into a stiff dough.
6. Place a sheet of plastic wrap onto your work surface, place dough on top, and form dough into a 2 inch diameter log.
7. Roll dough log in crushed salted pistachios and then in demerara sugar.
8. Chill dough for 2 hours and then slice to make cookies. Dough will be firm and crumbly. If it's too firm to slice, leave at room temperature for a while or defrost in a microwave at 30% power for about 30 seconds.
9. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes.
10. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
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Salted Caramel Shortbread
Have you experienced the delight of an oozy caramel accented with the crunch of sea salt? The first taste will make you feel like your palate has gone to finishing school. Inspired by these confections as sophisticated as only the French could make, I have created a brown sugar shortbread with a sprinkle of sea salt on top.
Yield: 2 dozen pieces
2 cups flour
1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
garnish: coarsely ground sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 325.
2. Sift together flour, cornstarch, and brown sugar.
3. Use a fork, then your hands to work in the butter.
4. Flatten dough into a 3/4 inch thick circle on a baking sheet, and flute the edges. Use a fork to prick all over.
5. Sprinkle sea salt over surface of shortbread before baking.
6. Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, until the edges are golden.
7. Cool for 20 minutes, then cut into wedges or rectangles to serve.
© 2010 Linda Shiue