Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday Baking: Cornmeal and Olive Oil Biscotti with Figs and Almonds + Giveaway!!

I rarely buy cookie cookbooks. Mainly because I: a) Have already amassed a good number of great recipes I've adapted and adopted into my repetoire; b) Understand the basics of cookie baking to take enough liberties with existing recipes, so that one recipe can turn into ten; and c) Thanks to the world wide web, I have access to thousands of cookie recipes with the click of a finger.

But if there is one cookie book you have to buy this holiday season, it's Alice Medrich's Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies. Don't let the unwieldy title turn you off. This is a gorgeous, unique and inspiring cookbook from an award-winning pastry chef that'll keep you preoccupied in the kitchen for hours like it did with me.

If the name Alice Medrich sounds familiar to you, she is the author of such dessert classics as Pure Dessert and Bittersweet: Recipes from a Life in Chocolate, which was an IACP Cookbook of the Year.

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What's unique about Chewy Gooey is that Alice divides each chapter by a texture: crispy, crunchy, chunky, chewy, gooey, flaky, and melt-in-your-mouth. Which makes complete sense since when we talk about cookies, we often talk about the texture. I mean, look at the chocolate chip cookie for example. Many debates have gone on in my life time as to which is better: the crunchy version or the chewy version. In the end, both are swell. It all comes down to personal preference. And Alice makes it that much easier for us to pinpoint the recipes that will satisfy anyone's cookie texture preference.

In the book, Alice proves that cutting fat and sugar in cookies will not make the flavour or texture of the cookies suffer, and she also includes a number of wheat-free and gluten-free recipes and alternatives for the health-conscious.

There are tons and tons of recipes in this book, including many Alice's new twists on some old classics. I especially love the "upgrades" sections after a recipe, which give suggestions as to other flavour combinations you can use in the recipe. Alice makes some wonderful suggestions that I probably wouldn't have considered before, and it really gets the wheels in your head turning to come up with your own unique and exotic combination.

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I was lucky enough to get a very early glimpse of this book earlier in the summer and have tried a number of recipes since. From Chewy Ginger Cookies (my new favourite holiday cookie!), to Almond Macaroons (tastes like baked marzipan, to Very Tangy Lemon Bars 2.0 (the best lemon bars I've ever had...perfect balance of tart and sweetness), to Maya's No-No-Nanaimo Bars (heavenly), to Spicy Linzer Bars (warm and comforting), none of these recipes have disappointed me and have all been a hit. I'm looking forward to working through more recipes from the book.

I'm sharing with you my adaption of Alice's cornmeal and olive oil biscotti with figs and almonds. The first time I made them, I only had lemon on hand, and I found the lemon got lost against the figs and almonds, and I found there was a little "je ne sais quoi" that was missing (anise came to mind). I loved the use of cornmeal here, as it adds an unusual extra texture to the usual crunch you get in a biscotti.

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Buy this book this holiday! Either for yourself, for your sister, for your mother, or for a friend. It's a beautiful book with beautiful recipes, and you will be sure to love it.

Tell me your favourite cookie texture. In the spirit of the holiday season, I'm going to give away a copy of Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies because I love it this much and want to share it with one of you lucky readers! It's hard for me to just pick one texture, but I absolutely adore all things chewy and gooey. Comment below by Sunday, December 12, 2010 by 11:59 PM EST. Contest is open to Canadian and U.S. residents.

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Cornmeal and Olive Oil Biscotti with Figs and Almonds
Adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies
Makes about 30 biscotti

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (3.67 ounces) cornmeal (I used semolina flour, which is basically finely ground cornmeal)
3/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup (4.625 ounces) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons anise extract
Finely grated zest of 1 medium orange
2/3 cup (3.33 ounces) almonds, lightly toasted
1/2 cup (3 ounces) dried figs, stems discarded and diced

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.

Combine the flour, cornmeal, and baking powder in a medium bowl and whisk together thoroughly.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the olive oil, sugar, salt, pepper, eggs, anise extract, and orange zest on high speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until lightened in colour and slightly thickened. Stir in the flour mixture. The batter will be thick and very sticky. Stir in the almonds and figs.

Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper and lightly sprinkle with some cornmeal. Divide the dough in half and scrape each section onto the prepared pan. Using your hands, shape each dough half into a long, thin, flat rectangle about 1-inch thick. Lightly sprinkle a little more cornmeal on top of each log, and if desired, add a few grinds of black pepper.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the loaf is golden on top and golden brown at the lower edges. Rotate the pan from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. Set the pan on a rack to cool for at least 5 minutes. Leave the oven on, turning it down to 325°F.

Carefully transfer one loaf to a cutting board. Use a sharp, serrated knife to cut the loaf crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Transfer the slices to the cookie sheet, standing them at least 1/2 inch apart. Repeat with the other loaf.

Bake for 15 minutes, turning the tray once to ensure even baking. Flip the biscotti over and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the tops of the biscotti have turned slightly golden and feel dry to the touch.

Seet the pan on a raack. Cool the cookies completely before stacking or storing. May be kept in an airtight container for at least 2 weeks.


Mardi Michels December 7, 2010 at 10:15 a.m.  

Crunchy on the outside and gooey in the middle!

m. December 8, 2010 at 9:05 a.m.  

Melt-in-your-mouth soft, with an unexpected texture!

Heather Li December 8, 2010 at 10:24 a.m.  

My favourite cookie texture is when it's firm but has a tender, soft bite to it -- don't have to worry about it falling apart or breaking your teeth. :)

Edith R December 8, 2010 at 4:23 p.m.  

I like my cookies soft and chewy!

Colleen Fraser December 8, 2010 at 11:39 p.m.  

I LOVE Alice Medrich! I didn't know she had a new cookbook out!! Unless I'm lucky enough to win this giveaway, this is going on my Christmas wish list for sure!!! And I'm a fan of the chewy cookie - ideally a thin crispness on the exterior with a chewy-chewy interior...mm-mm!

janet December 10, 2010 at 5:49 a.m.  

All those cookies sound fantastic. I recently went to Morocco where I had a wonderful coconut macaroon. Soft, crumbly, yet moist. Gosh, it was wonderful and I can't wait to try to recreate it at home this holiday season. :)

Ghoul Friday December 12, 2010 at 10:38 a.m.  

Hmmm...hard to choose. I'm going to have to go with a good crunch on the bottom, a crisp top, and a soft middle. I think it's why I like peanut butter cookies so much.

Plus, it has peanut butter in them ;)

I actually don't own ANY dessert cookbooks. Mainly because if I don't have any good dessert recipes kicking around, I'm less likely to be tempted. But then I scramble on the internet at Christmas time.

PheMom December 12, 2010 at 10:58 a.m.  

Those all look and sound gorgeous, but I am probably most fond of cookies that are a little chewy. Cookies are definitely dangerous to me! Thanks for holding such a nice giveaway! Happy Holidays!!

Gale Reeves December 12, 2010 at 1:59 p.m.  

I, too, am an Alice Medrich fan. Thanks for offering to share this cookbook. I love cookies, but must say that the gooey ones are my favorite. My Mom's soft ginger cookies are a favorite that I will never again have baked by her.

Stay-At-Home-Chef December 15, 2010 at 7:19 p.m.  

This has become one of my favourite cookbooks of the year...LOVE her recipes (each one I've tried has turned out amazing). Will post my review soon!

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