Two years ago, having just moved back to Aspen, I was invited to join good friends at a local restaurant for dinner. Our paths hadn’t often crossed for the previous eight years so this was a celebration. What I recall most about that glorious evening – there was much to remember – is the small white bakery box sitting on my plate when I arrived. It was nondescript except for an elaborate bow that enclosed it.
After slipping off the ribbon, I discovered two individually wrapped, exquisite-looking chocolate chip cookies meriting an immediate Wow!, Mmmm, from a nearby table. A perfect Welcome Home gift. No one reading this Post fails to recognize the thought, time and effort that went into those cookies. Since 1965 the Pillsbury Doughboy (initiate stomach poke) has said it best, “Nothin’ says lovin’ like something from the oven.”
Although many of my friends often gift me with splendid homemade goodies, I’ve never reciprocated. Time to step up my game. Both of my French Fridays with Dorie recipes this week, Speculoos or Cheez-it-ish Crackers, are the perfect hostess thank-you, table favor, get-well-soon token or just because. These are easily made, delicious, and do-aheads that can park themselves in the freezer until needed.
Wait, there’s more. For me, packaging homemade food and bakery items is a frustrating task. Yes, there are excellent books, good magazine articles and Pinterest Boards devoted to this subject. Let’s get real. At 5:30pm, when you still need to shower, dress and feed the dog before a 7pm dinner invitation, who remembers that clipping about a perfect receptacle for the cookies you’ve just baked. Nothing to do but grab a paper plate and Saran Wrap. Yuck. Readers, I’ve solved that problem also. You can thank me later.
First, the baked goods. In Belgium Speculoos say Christmas and are made in celebration of Saint Nicholas’ name day. Here, where these crisp brown-sugar delicacies have recently become quite popular, any month is fair game. Make them big or small (I chose a 2” round cutter.), thick or thin and spicey, spicier or spiciest. This is an elegant cookie, perfect with coffee, tea or espresso. A snack, with milk. Dessert, with ice cream or sorbet. The recipe is below.
Cheez-it-ish Crackers are the perfect nibble with before dinner drinks. I don’t often serve hors-d’oeuvres. To me, Dorie’s Herbed Olives, Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts and these Crackers are just the right touch with wine, champagne or mixed drinks. Made in a food processor, these are slice-and-bake, finger food. I used a 1 1/2” cutter. This recipe is also below.
Now here are two packaging ideas that, hopefully, will carry me, maybe, you, through the summer. This spring I’ve stopped by the many thrift shops in our Valley searching for tin containers or boxes imprinted with company names and logos. These are plentiful, colorful, inexpensive and always well-made. After washing them thoroughly and lining them with decorative waxed paper, they are the perfect containers for cookies, cupcakes, muffins, scones and bundt cakes. Voilà.
Secondly, between Target and Michael’s I’ve stashed a healthy inventory of paper products, stickers, ribbons, sacks and tissue to last for the rest of my life. Realizing I’m prone to exaggeration, that, dear Readers, is the truth. There is nothing I can make that won’t fit nicely into something. Voilà, encore.
SPECULOOS by Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table
Be prepared: The rolled-out dough needs to be chilled for at least 3 hours.
Makes about 50 cookies
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 (packed) cup light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
Tip: If you prefer spicier, add more ginger and cloves.
1. Whisk the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices together in a bowl.
2.Working in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter at medium speed until creamy. Add the sugars and beat until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and beat until well-blended.
3. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until the flour disappears into the soft dough. You may have some flour at the bottom of the bowl, or the dough may not be entirely smooth, but that’s normal. Using your hands (always my first choice) or a spatula, reach into the bowl and knead or stir the dough 2 or 3 times, just enough to eliminate any dry spots.
4. Divide the dough in half. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll the dough between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap until you have a circle that’s a scant ¼ inch thick. As you’re rolling, turn the dough over a couple of times and pull away the paper or plastic, so you don’t end up rolling creases into the dough. Put the rolled-out rounds of dough on a tray or cutting board and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen, well wrapped, for up to 2 months.)
5. When you’re ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Choose a cookie cutter and remove 1 circle of dough from the refrigerator. Peel off the top piece of wax paper or plastic and cut out as many cookies as you can from the dough, carefully lifting the cutouts onto the lined baking sheet.
6. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are lightly golden and just slightly brown around the edges. Allow the cookies to rest on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool.
Kept in an airtight container, the cookies will be fine for a week.
CHEEZ-IT-ISH CRACKERS by Dorie Greenspan
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
1/4 pound grated cheese (cheddar, Gruyere, and Emmenthal, are all good choices)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1. Add the butter, cheese, salt, and both peppers to the bowl of your food processor. Pulse until the butter is broken into smaller pieces and the mixture forms small curds. Add the flour to the food processor and pulse until curds form again. Keep pulsing. The dough gets very dry and crumbly first but then comes together into curds).
2. Turn the dough onto your work surface and knead briefly to bring it together. Divide in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour or up to 3 days.
3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
4. Remove one disk from the fridge and roll it to a scant 1/4-inch thickness between sheets of parchment. Using a small cookie cutter,about 1 1/4-inches, cut rounds from the dough. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet – you don’t need to leave much space in between, these don’t spread.
5. Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until the crackers are firm and golden. Use a spatula to transfer the crackers to a wire rack to cool.
The crackers are good warm or at room temperature. Store in an airtight container. They’ll be good for at least 4 days.
FRENCH FRIDAYS WITH DORIE is an international group of food bloggers who are cooking their way through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table Cookbook. Thanks to Kathy Van Bruinisse at Bakeaway with Me for reminding me to bake these tasty crackers. Visit our FFWD link by clicking here.