Last week I acquired a new cook book - 'Martha Stewart's Cookies'. This book should really come with a warning on the cover, as I defy anyone to pick it up and browse through it and not purchase it. A friend of mine aptly described the luscious photographs that accompany every recipe as 'Food Porn' - I couldn't agree more. I found myself inadvertently mmmmmm-ing and ahhhhhhh-ing with pleasure as I read through the book in its entirety, and in the days since I have found my mind drifting back to this book, mentally planning which tantalising treats were going to be attempted first.
The book is divided into chapters according to the style of cookie. I found myself immediately drawn to the 'Soft and Chewy' section, as this is exactly how I like my cookies to be. My choice of cookie yesterday - my inaugural recipe from the book - was the 'Anise Drops'. This might seem strange to some; there are many much more striking cookies in this book, and many that may seem initially more appealing. However, given my recent experiments with Tortas de Aciete, I felt like continuing with the aniseed theme.
These cookies are so quick and simple. I whipped up a batch while the coffee was brewing, and we found ourselves eating 'just one more' several times in the course of drinking said coffee. They are plain cookies, but elegantly, beautifully so; pale circles with a gently crackled top. The texture is slightly chewy but airy, the perfectly legitimate lovechild of a cake and a macaron.
My admiration for Martha Stewart is great, but if I had one criticism of her, it is that she is just too bloody perfect. Reading through her 'Living' magazine, or watching her daily television show, I am often struck with a depressing sense of my own inadequacies. Why does my house not look hers? Why can I never manage to have fresh flowers from the supermarket in the house, never mind freshly cut from my own immaculate garden? Well, perhaps it's because I have a life in which beautifying my house comes somewhat lower on my list of priorities than cooking, eating, drinking wine and watching television. Actually, cleaning my house comes lower than all those too... Never mind, my point was that while Martha instructs you to transfer this cookie batter to 'a pastry bag fitted with a coupler or a 1/2 inch plain tip (such as an Ateco #806)' and 'pipe 1 3/4 inch rounds onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper', I settled for dolloping teaspoons of the mixture onto the baking sheets. I admire Martha, but I can't be her, and I can live with that. (The mixture was liquid enough that the cookies spread into perfect circles as they cooked anyway!).
My other minor adjustment to the recipe would be to use only a scant teaspoon of the aniseed essence, rather than the full one advised. I just found that the flavour was slightly too overpowering, although strangely it had mellowed a little by this morning (when I accidentally ate one of these cookies for breakfast). Perhaps it was just that my aniseed essence was new, I'd just say go carefully with it as it's very strong.
For those of you yet to succumb to the purchase of this book, here is the incredibly simple recipe:
1 1/2 cups of plain/all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp aniseed extract
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).
Mix together flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk eggs (using an electric mixer/whisk) until fluffy - about 3 minutes - then gradually whisk in sugar until incorporated - about 3 minutes more.
Mix in aniseed extract.
Reduce whisk speed to low and mix in flour mixture.
Plop mixture onto lined baking sheets and cook for 8-9 minutes, until tops crack. You may need to rotate the baking sheets half way through to ensure that they are all cooked evenly. They will remain very pale.
Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
These will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days.
I am not going to make any rash resolutions about cooking every recipe in this book, but you may have got the hint from the title of this post that I fully intend to continue baking from it - and perhaps tempt you to try too?