Tuesday, December 22, 2009

3 Cookies: 2 simple, 1 EPIC

'Tis the season for cookie baking. It's cold outside, and the appeal of an oven-warmed house smelling of cinnamon and butter is deep and undeniable. Baking is not one of my strong suits. It's much like math, which makes my brain shut off, all precision and measurements. But who doesn't love baking cookies? Not as demanding as, say, baking a cake or bread.

Now there is this one cookies... you might call it my mecca of cookie baking. My Nonna's fig cookie. My absolute favorite cookie ever. EVAR. Since I can remember these have been a holiday staple at my Galesburg, IL family (my Dad's side). My Nonna (as if you couldn't guess by my use of the term "Nonna"), is from an Italian background. Nonna has always been one of my biggest influences in both cooking and art. Last Christmas, my aunt put together family recipe books for everyone, with several of my Nonna's recipes as well as other great-aunts/grandmothers/etc. The first recipe takes up 2 pages, the only one in the booklet that does so. It's the fig cookie recipe. I was SOOO excited to finally have this, though intimidated to actually try it out. I mean, it's a lot to live up to... my favorite cookie ever for gosh sakes! Nonna's baking!

My Nonna's fig cookies, made by my Nonna herself. These I have been hoarding in my freezer since Thanksgiving.

I'm on vacation this week, with no huge plans. I decided this would be the year I would finally tackle the fig cookies. But first, I had to build myself up (procrastinate). First with one of my other favorite Nonna cookies, Ginger cookies, then with a super-simple recipe I came across in a random cookbook, using Nutella (how could I resist?) So I will write about those 2 first, as a lead in to cookie mecca. Most of the cookie recipes from Nonna have Oleo as an ingredient. I knew I could not merely substitute butter for oleo, as some recipes have both. So I used margarine, even though I never use it for anything else. Yes, I bought "I can't Believe it's Not Butter" sticks. Well, Fabio's Italian, right?

Nonna's Ginger Cookies

3/4 cups Oleo (margarine)
1 cup sugar (plus some for rolling the dough in)
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix everything together. Roll into balls (I used a melon baller as a scoop. this made a good size, and made it easier to work with the sticky dough.) Roll the balls in sugar and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Do not flatten... they will flatten as they bake. Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for 8-10 minutes.

These are a soft ginger cookie, not a ginger snap. They'll warm your soul.

Gianduia Sandwich Cookies
from Desserts 1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold

1 Cup Nutella
1 extra-large egg (I just used a reguar ol large egg.)
1 cup self-rising cake flour, plus additional for dusting
(I used 1 cup of regular cake four and added 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt)

Preheat oven to 375ºF

In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup of Nutella with the egg well (I used electric beaters). Slowly add 1 cup of cake flour until a wet dough is formed. Dust a board with a little more flour and transfer dough to board. Knead gently, adding a little more flour if necessary. Dough will be sticky. Roll dough into 18 balls, flouring your hands as you go to make rolling easier. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, several inches apart.

Bake 12 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, split cookies in half horizontally. Spread bottom with 1 teaspoon of Nutella, then replace top.

*deep breath* okay... fig cookie time. this is a big deal people. you may even want to do a drum roll to yourself before you read this.... go ahead, I'll give you time...

Let me remind you of what these cookies look like when my Nonna makes them. So you can laugh later:

Nonna's Fig Cookies (i.e. Iron Stef's favorite cookies)

2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup oleo (margarine)
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk (room temperature)
3 eggs (room temperature)
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract

1/2 cup nuts (I used pecans)
2 14 oz. packs dried figs
8 oz. dates
1 cup white raisins
1 cup black raisins
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon or so of orange juice (the mixture has to be moist enough to handle and be able to spread on dough)

1 cup powdered sugar
1/8 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

rainbow sprinkles!

For the dough:
Sift together flour, sugar and baking powder. Blend in oleo and butter to resemble pie crust (I used my hands...look for a pebbly-sand kind of texture that holds together when squeezed). Mix together the rest of the ingredients and add to flour mixture. Mix until dough is smooth. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes (I refrigerated it).

For Filling:
Soak figs in warm water. Grind nuts to a course texture in a food processor, then add figs, raisins and dates. Add spices, honey and orange juice to make a moist texture. (I did this in batches, it's very very sticky).

On a floured surface, roll out dough (I worked in 3rds) thin and cut into long strips, 3" wide. Put fig mixture down middle of strips. Fold dough over to cover filling. Cut into 2" segments. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet, seam-down. Bake at 350ºF for 18-20 minutes.

Mix together Icing ingredients until smooth. Spread a thin coating of frosting on each cookie and sprinkle with nonpareils while frosting is still wet.

Sooo.... I did it!!! they did not turn out nearly as pretty as my Nonna's. I'm gonna call them "rustic." But really they are a mess. They tasted just about right, though...yum. I think I just need to make these for Christmas every year, like Nonna, and maybe someday mine will be just as perfect as hers!

See? "Rustic." :)

More Iron Stef cookie posts:
Coconut Curry Peanut Butter cookies
Butter Pecan cookies and Almond crisps
Underwear Drawer Cookies
Dulce de Leche Cookies
Yummy Butts


Tracy said...

I think they look delicious! I am still afraid to tackly my granma's noodle recipe. I'm just afraid it won't live up to hers and then I'll be too scared to try it again.
Thanks for the reminder that practice makes perfect. Grandma's noodles (Nonna's cookies) probably weren't perfect the first time either.

Margaret Smith said...

Fantastic blog Stephanie. Thanks so much for sharing your Nona's recipes. I loved to hear that my Aunt Frannie is still making fig cookies. Appreciate having the other recipes as well. The only thing I do different when I've made the fig cookies is to cut a few slits on one side and slightly curve the cookie.