One of the primary pieces of advice my grandmother imparted on me — besides the fact that she thought I should be a writer, an absurd idea I promptly ignored — was that one should always leave the house looking the best they can. I realize this might sound a little old-fashioned and possibly even oppressive — I Exist As More Than A Decorative Object, thankyouverymuch — but I took it to heart nonetheless because I know she didn’t mean high heels and rollers, but mostly that looking more with it than you might actually feel sometimes can trick you too.
The rules of cookie math, whether or not you have underlings dictating them to you, are as follows:
- Cookies with butter > cookies without butter
- Cookies with vanilla bean > cookies with vanilla extract
- Larger cookies > smaller cookies
- Cookies with fewer words in the title > cookies with more (see: chocolate, butter, Oreos)
- Cookies with rainbow sprinkles > cookies with chocolate sprinkles and also all other things, ever
Let me be the first to admit that the only reason that the hamantaschen archives on this site aren’t stronger are that I’m completely stubborn and generally a pedant and this gets in the way of what I know needs to be done to achieve hamantaschen perfection. If you read that sentence and thought “I know what some of those words mean but maybe not in that order,” don’t worry, you’re not alone. Hamantaschen are triangular cookies traditionally eaten during the Jewish festival of Purim (think: Jewish Mardi Gras) that falls next week. Haman, the villain in the biblical story, was said to wear a tricorne hat — with the brim turned up on three sides, something that was wildly fashionable in the 1700s which means it’s due for a hipster revival any day now — and this is where the cookies get their shape.
Almost 10 years ago, when I was a child-free, single-chinned (bah) newlywed and this site was 6 weeks old, I passingly mentioned making the Belgian brownies they serve at Le Pain Quotidien. They were as delicious as should be expected from something that’s nothing but chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs and a smidge of flour. However, I never made them after that because, ever the pedant, to me they weren’t real brownies. Brownies are dense, fudgy and even a little chewy and these were featherlight and rich. I don’t know what’s wrong with me either.
A year ago, I made what I called Bananas Foster Puddings — individual puddings in which the bananas had been lightly caramelized in butter, brown sugar and rum before being layered with vanilla custard and kind of mediocre homemade vanilla wafers before being topped with a tuft of broiled meringue. The evening I made them, I managed to spill a pint glass of water (full, I mean, of course) right next to my laptop, which led to all sorts of drama including the loss of the photos and recipe, in case you’re wondering why nobody’s going to be mistaking me for a lifestyle guru anytime soon.
I am, as ever, a sucker for a recipe with a great name. Bring me your grunts, your bundts, your fools, slumps and sonkers. Take me across the pond and let me feast on jammy dodgers, bubble and squeak, rarebit and rumbledethumps. I hope you know it’s only a matter of time until we take in some scrumptious nun’s farts. And so, for no reasons other than an inherent fascination with great food names plus egg whites to use up after a batch of these evil things, I turned my attention this week to the brutti ma buoni (meaning “ugly but good”), an egg white cookie that hails from Prato, Italy.
I have, for forever and a day, looked for a chocolate cookie I could crown with what I considered the highest honor one could bestow on it, declaring it the browniest cookie. I just didn’t expect it to take me so long to find what I was looking for. Along the way, I met cookies that suggest brownies; ones that are weakly chocolaty, better emulating mediocre brownies; those that promise soft but deliver chewy; and even versions that are a great chocolate cookie, but have little to do with the glorious puddles of square-baked halfway-between-cookie-and-cake batter I love to the point of distraction.