Monday, December 9, 2013

cigarettes russes cookies

cigarettes russes, dipped, sprinkled

Last week, guys, last week… Wait, no. We cannot start a week as dreary as this one already looks from my Monday perch (this view, plus ten thousand loose toys and dark gray rain outside) with a complaint, it would not be good. But I have to tell you where I was most of last week because it’s so traumatizing, I cannot keep it on the inside any longer: I was touring kindergartens. Like, school, big old public schools with lots of kids. School for five year-old giants. School that my “baby” will require next fall. It was terrifying. It was all-consuming. I tried to swim off my anxiety in the middle of each day, only to return home to find that the sun had basically set at 2:30 p.m. rending that whole cooking-and-natural-light-photography thing I love so much impossible. It was not my favorite week.

salt, egg whites, butter, sugar, flour, vanilla
melted butter

But this week, this week is going to be the opposite in every way because: butter. Because: cookies. Because I think we should a crazy thing like try to share a new cookie recipe with you every day this week, or have fun trying. I have such great ones on my docket — a mix of wonders I didn’t know you could recreate at home, classics that need to be in every repertoire, new riffs that I’m basically obsessed with, old-school bakery favorites, and a goofy little untraditional cookie, just because. It’s a tall order. But I figure if I can devote a week to things that are basically no fun at all, I can devote a week to things that are only fun, like little buttery, crisp, golden-edged bites of cheer.

such an easy batter

one level teaspoon of batter
spread into a thin round puddle
roll it immediately from the oven
letting them cool on the sticks is easiest
lots of rolled wafer cookies

Today’s cookie is from the Seriously, I Did Not Know You Could Make These at Home files. There I was, aimlessly clicking about the internet a few weeks ago when I stumbled on a video of Sara Moulton making a cookie I’ve thus far only seen in tins sold as piroulines but is actually called anything from French Cigares to Cigarettes Russes like it was no big deal at all (it’s kind of her specialty, after all) and I had to try it too. It turns out, it really isn’t a big deal. The batter is incredibly simple — some egg whites, some sugar, flour, salt and melted butter, a one-bowl affair — and you spread it into thin puddles where it bakes quickly into a bronzed-edge soft cookie that you roll around a pencil or chopstick or crayon (not recommended, by the way) while it is hot, where it quickly sets as a tube-shaped crisp, buttery wafer. The ends are dipped into melted chocolate and while your mileage may vary, I think this is an excellent an opportunity to use the oldest sprinkles known to man.

older than all of us
cigarettes russes, dipped in chocolate
rolled wafers, chocolate, sprinkles

The resulting cookies are the prettiest little things, delicious, light and crisp too. They keep well, pack nicely in tins and sound totally un-PC. If there’s a better reason to make a cookie, well, I don’t believe you.

one end dipped (looks, uh, extra-cigarette-ish)

More Cookies: There are over 85 cookie recipes in the archives. My favorite holiday-ish ones, as in, get these away from me or I’ll eat them all, are Austrian Raspberry Shortbread, Crescent Jam and Cheese Cookies, Grasshopper Brownies, Seven-Layer Cookies, Tiny Pecan Sandies, Nutmeg-Maple Butter Cookies and Peanut Butter Cookies. For a cookie ideal for gingerbread men, “ninja”-bread men or gingerbread tenements houses, try these Spicy Gingerbread Cookies. [All The Smitten Kitchen Cookies]

Signed Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks: I have an ongoing arrangement with the wonderful independent bookstore in Soho, McNally-Jackson, in which copies of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook can be ordered with custom inscriptions — i.e. not just the usual signature but anything you’d like, be it Merry Christmas! or Congratulations on your engagement! (Now bake me some cookies.) or No matter what anyone else tells you, you’re my favorite reader. No seriously. It’s you. all of which have happened because you guys really are that funny and awesome. This year, we have a hard deadline for Christmas shipping (i.e. you’d pay standard and not rushed shipping and the book will reach you by Christmas) of this Saturday, December 14th. Thank you! [Order Custom Inscribed Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks from McNally Jackson]

One year ago: Cashew Butter Balls
Two years ago: Nutmeg-Maple Butter Cookies
Three years ago: Roasted Chestnut Cookies
Four years ago: Creamed Spinach, Gingerbread-Apple Upside-Down Cake, Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake, Balsamic-Braised Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
Five years ago: Cottage Cheese Pancakes
Six years ago: Black Bean Pumpkin Soup
Seven years ago: Chocolate Stout Cake

Cigarettes Russes Cookies (Piroulines)
Cookie batter adapted from Gourmet, March 2002

The best things about these cookies is how simple the batter is to make, how quickly they bake, how delicious they taste and how pretty they look. The peskiest thing about these cookies is that if you have a short attention span (ahem), you may tire of spreading those batter blobs into thin circles and rolling them individually around pencils or chopsticks. Nevertheless, these cookies are perfect — light, crisp, and pretty — it’s worth it, so worth it.

Yield: 2 to 3 dozen cookies

3 large egg whites
3/4 cup (90 grams) confectioners sugar
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons or 75 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon table salt
Seeds from a 2-inch segment of vanilla bean, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
4 ounces (115 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Sprinkles or other decorations (optional)

Heat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Grab a bunch of pencils or chopsticks.

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients with a whisk. Working in small batches to begin (I’d just make 2 on the first tray, so you can get the hang of it; add more to ensuing batches as you do), drop 1 level teaspoon of batter for each cookie at least 3 inches apart on your prepared sheet. Using a small offset spatula or spoon, spread each into a thin 3-inch/7.5-cm circle (circles don’t need to be perfect, nobody will care).

Bake cookie sheets, one at a time, until edges are golden, about 6 to 8 minutes, but you should closely watch your first batch in case your oven bakes things more quickly and adjust the baking time for remaining batches if necessary. Slide a small offset spatula under the first cookie and quickly roll the loosened cookie around a pencil, chopstick or other thin rod into a tight cylinder. Transfer cookie-wrapped pencil to cooling rack. Repeat with remaining cookies and additional pencils. If they start cracking at the edges or become too brittle because they’ve cooled too much (this will probably happen after every two to three cookies), return the cookie sheet to the oven for 20 to 30 seconds to soften them again. Do this as many times as needed. Cookies can be slid off their pencils almost immediately, but it’s even easier if you give them a full minute or more to cool. Leave cookies to fully cool on rack; repeat process with remaining batter.

Melt chocolate in a small saucepan or microwave until half-melted. Stir until remaining chunks melt. When cookies are cool, working with 1 cookie at a time, dip 1/4 inch of tip of one or both ends into melted chocolate, letting excess drip off, then rolling them in sprinkles (if desired) and place on a parchment- or wax-paper-lined baking sheet. Let stand at room temperature until chocolate sets.

Do ahead: Cookies can be made 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container. They will keep even longer in the freezer with layers of waxed paper between them.

More tips:

  • You can flavor the cookies in many ways. Here, I use some vanilla bean (highly recommended, totally delicious), but you could also use 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon or another spice (or mix of wintry spices), you could replace a tablespoon or two of flour with cocoa powder for a chocolaty effect, you could use a pinch of espresso powder for a coffee flavor, citrus zest, etc. Have fun with it.
  • A small offset spatula is your friend in basically all baking endeavors, in my humble opinion, but especially here as you’ll want something thin to easily slide between the paper-thin cookie and baking sheet, as well as to spread the batter thinly once it’s spooned on the baking sheet. Bake a lot? Buy two.
  • If you’re the sort that really wants perfect circles for all of your cookies, you can trace 3-inch circles in permanent market on a piece of parchment paper. Flip it over and bake cookies on the reverse side; the outline should show through.
  • If you have a Silpat or two, use them instead of parchment paper. I found that my parchment paper sheets over time became crinkly from the dampness of the batter. It’s not a big deal, but it doesn’t leave the cookies as smooth. (I promise, however, nobody will care.)
  • I was definitely a beginner when making these, so was nervous to overbake them, but you can definitely get a touch more color on yours than I did on mine.
  • I mention this in the recipe, but do not fret about the cookies firming up the second they leave the oven. Every recipe I’ve read tells you to hurry, this part is so stressful — this is not stressful. Put the cookie tray back in the oven for 20 seconds any time the cookie becomes too firm to roll without the edges cracking. It will not overbake the cookie, just soften it again. You can do this multiple times with each tray, as many as needed.
  • Finally, the more pencils or chopsticks you have around the faster this will go as while you can remove the cookies almost instantly after they’re rolled (they set quickly), it’s even easier to slide them off if you can let each rest on the rod until it’s fully cool, one minute. To do this, you’ll want more than one.


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