Friday, December 21, 2012

cashew butter balls

messy, buttery, tender cookies

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook Book Tour ended its 2012 run on Monday evening at the New York Public Library in Midtown, as fine of a place to call a finish line as any, and with great company to boot. I know I should say something here that sums up this sprawling, incredible last couple months in one neat paragraph. There’s so much we haven’t had time to talk about! But, it feels too soon to get my head around all of it and I’d rather talk about this here site because as overwhelmingly grand the last few weeks have been, once I got reunited with my kid/husband/bed, it’s this place I’ve missed the most — fiddling in the kitchen, sharing things we’re excited about and chatting in the comments. So thank you for being part of it. I can’t wait to catch up.

toasted cashews
grinding the cashews with flour

I’d like to tell you that my first foray back into the kitchen was a raging success, alas, this is no time to start teetering on the edge of facts. The second was not much better, and only cemented my hunch that cookbook book tours and cooking are, quite ridiculously, mutually exclusive activities. The third, however, must be shared, despite the fact that the technical errors I encountered were largely avoidable had I, 800-plus site recipes and a cookbook later, yet learned to go with my gut. Why be hasty, right?

the dough before it is chilled

You see, a frequently asked question on the tour has been how I go about creating recipes and while the answer is long and boring winding, I can say in the realm of cookies, it’s a bit more straightforward as most come back to basic formulas that need only a little adjustment for nuance to make them work for a specific flavor profile. Today’s case in point is one of my favorite holiday cookies, the Russian Tea Cake/Mexican Wedding Cakes/Nut Crescents/and sometimes Povlorones. 99 percent of the recipes out there follow a formula that works gorgeously each time — tender, buttery barely-sweet mounds of cookies hot from the oven roll in the powdery sugared deep before cooling into the only cookie I make consistently from year to year. But when I spied one with slightly more nuts and slightly less flour, I was sent into a neurotic typical tailspin over whether I should a) try something new that might be better or b) not fix what is not broken. In the end, I went for the new and potentially different and while these were probably the most fragile and elegant version of the cookie yet, I am only recommending them below as an alternative recipe, as a cookie that cannot handle tumbling through a freshly-sifted mound of featherlight powdered sugar without breaking in half is… probably not a headache anyone needs this weekend.

scoop and roll, scoop and roll

Really, baking should not cause furrowed brows. It should unwind and make the hallway swoon with the scent of creamed butter, sugar and vanilla toasting against flour. In the background, the Muppets and John Denver should be yukking it up and any adjacent preschoolers should be lightly dusted in powdered sugar as well. Somewhere, someone should be either be mixing you a Perfect Manhattan or plotting your getaway to one.

ready to bake
rolling in the powdery deep

I typically make this kind of cookie with pecans or walnuts. I’ve sometimes used in macadamias or almonds. I even once tweaked them for chestnuts roasted on an open fire in a dinky oven. But I’ve never made them or absolutely anything else with cashews because I don’t much care for cashews. If you asked me why, I’d go on about them tasting rather one-dimensional and flatly sweet, almost buttery but in need of more texture, more salt and maybe a little vanilla. You would probably have the common sense to suggest this means that they’re actually calling out to be included in a cookie (buttery? check. crisp? check. vanilla? check.) I, however, took nearly a decade to come to this conclusion and still another year to finally make them.

some lost an edge or two

You were right, by the way, they make an excellent cookie. Everything I find dull about cashews alone is perfect toasted and embedded in these cookies and although this isn’t half as exciting as the other dozen cookies I’d dreamed of sharing this month (next December, friends, I may not leave my apartment at all — for balance and stuff — and you will have all the cookies I owe you) they’re hardly an unwelcome unwelcome addition to any party.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday, friends. I hope somebody bakes you lots of cookies.

and then we went to a party
little boxes tied up with bakery string

For your baking extravaganza: There are 57 cookie recipes in the archives. Where to start? Well, Grasshopper Brownies, of course. Then Spicy Gingerbread Cookies (perfect for houses, squat or tall), Rugelach Pinwheels, Crescent Jam and Cheese Cookies, Seven Layer Cookies, ridiculously decadent Chocolate-Toffee Cookies, Toasted Coconut Shortbread, Austrian Raspberry Shortbread, then how about some Pink Lemonade Bars? From the book, I implore you to not skip the Gooey Cinnamon Squares, a mash-up of Snickerdoodles and St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake I became so obsessed with last year, I begged my editor to let me add them, long past the point I was allowed. Need a great cake to top off your meal? You will never be unwelcome with Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread (I make it every year), a Chocolate Stout Cake or even this flourless Ho-Ho of a Heavenly Chocolate Cake Roll.

One year ago: Nutmeg-Maple Butter Cookies, Caesar-Salad Deviled Eggs and Peppermint Hot Fudge Sauce
Two years ago: Roasted Chestnut Cookies, Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms, Iced Oatmeal Cookies, Broiled Mussels and Spicy Gingerbread Cookies
Three years ago: Creamed Spinach, Gingerbread Apple Upside-Down Cake, Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake, Balsamic-Braised Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Cream Biscuits, Coffee Toffee, Vanilla Roasted Pears and a little guide to Building Your Own Smitten Kitchen
Four years ago: Cauliflower Salad with Green Olives and Capers, Onion Tart with Mustard and Fennel, Apple Pancakes, Fennel, Proscuitto and Pomegranate Salad, Meyer Lemon and Fresh Cranberry Scones and Winter Fruit Salad
Five years ago: Pumpkin Waffles, Creamy White Polenta With Mushrooms, Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies, Nutmeg-Maple Cream Pie, Tiramisu Cake, Fennel Ice Cream and Chicken and Dumplings
Six years ago: Sundried Tomato Stuffed Mushrooms, Orangettes, Honey-Hoisin Pork Riblets and Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Cashew Butter Balls
Inspired by the Tasting Table Test Kitchens

It was one of my favorite food newsletters that put the idea of a cashew spin on one of my favorite cookies into my head last winter, however, in the end, I preferred my go-to formula (with slightly less nuts and slightly more flour) to theirs as mine crumbles less. I also nixed the nutmeg, added some vanilla and replaced the granulated sugar with powdered sugar, but kept the name because I love it too much to part with it. I also give a flaky salt option, because I think a faint crunch of salt contrasts wonderfully with sweet cashews.

Oh, and (big and!), I adapted the recipe for a one-bowl assembly in a food processor, yay. If you don’t have one, grind your nuts in whatever you have around (mini-grinder, coffee grinder, etc.) to a powder (I find grinding them with a bit of the flour makes them less prone to turn to a nut butter), then whip the butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the vanilla. Whisk together the ground nuts, flour and salt separately and mix them into the butter mixture until just combined. Chill and scoop as directed below.

If you’d like to make the recipe as TT suggests, use 1/4 cup more cashews and 1/4 cup less flour and only move them from tray to sugar to cooling rack with the gentleness of feathers. Once they cool, they’ll firm up enough that they’re less fragile, although I still wouldn’t recommend them for shipping. Nope, you’ll have to keep them for yourself.

Makes about 40 cookies

1 cup (145 grams) raw cashews
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt, or a heaped 1/4 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1 cup (2 sticks or 230 grams) unsalted butter, softened slightly, cut into chunks
2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350°F and toast cashews in a single layer until a shade darker, about 10 to 12 minutes. About halfway through the toasting time, toss the nuts around to redistribute them for even coloring. Let cool completely. You can hasten this along by transferring them to the freezer for a few minutes.

Place cooled cashews, flour and salt in the workbowl of a food processor. Clear the kitchen of toddlers and others sensitive to loud noises, then grind the mixture to a fine powder. Pour mixture into a bowl and set aside briefly.

Add butter and *only* 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar to the empty food processor and run the machine until the mixture is creamy and combined. Add the vanilla and mix. Add the nut-flour mixture and pulse the machine until it is just combined. Scrape the soft cookie dough back into the bowl that held the nut-flour mixture, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it until firm, about an hour.

[Do ahead: You can chill it in the fridge for up to 2 days, or in the freezer for longer.]

Heat your oven back to 300°F. Place remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar in a wide bowl. Using your hands, scoop tablespoon-sized (about 1-inch round) balls of the chilled cookie dough into your palms and quickly roll them into little balls. Place them evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet an inch apart. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until they feel dry on the outside, but still quite soft. (Don’t fret!)

Let cool on sheets for a few minutes, then gently roll the hot cookies in the powdered sugar before transferring them to racks to cool completely.

Cookies keep in an airtight container for at least a week, probably two, though never at my place. They can be frozen for as long as you trust your freezer. They occasionally benefit from a fresh coating of powdered sugar before serving.


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