Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Q Is For Quatre Epices Croquets Bordelais/Four-Spice Almond Cookies

is a problem, you have to admit.
Whether you are playing Scrabble, Bananagrams, Boggle, or any of the other generative naming games that we word-nerds enjoy, Q is a problem, eliciting moans and groans when that tile is pulled from the pile. Yes, it is unique, being the only letter in the alphabet that cannot go unescorted, but in spelling (as in many other realms) uniqueness does not always mean desired.  (And what's up with that friggin' upper case Q we all had to learn in grade school...the one that looks like a fancy 2.)  So it is not surprising that choosing the representative Q recipe for this occasional series on alphabetical baking was a bit of a stumper.  Quince, Quenelle, Quiche, Queso - all potentially tasty choices, yes, but...well, I was uninspired. 

So I thought, and read, and pondered, and actually did go ahead and make a darn good quiche but forgot to take pictures of it, so much for that, until one day, during an afternoon cup of coffee, I was craving those little spicy Mexican pig-shaped cookies, but they (Marranitos) don't start with the dreaded letter.  Not one to quit, I did a little more research, combined a few ideas from an entirely different quisine, qulture, and quntry, and here we have it...a delicious crunchy cookie, whose name I cannot pronounce without sounding like Elmer Goes To Paris, perfect for dunking in your coffee or milk in the afternoon. 

But Tom, you may ask...you haven't posted anything on this blog since March.  Did it really take you 5 months to come up with a simple little cookie recipe?  Sure, Q is a bitch, but 5 months?  To which I reply...let's back up a few sentences to a q word I snuck into the previous paragraph, a little literary foreshadowing.  The word...quit.  A simple little word, quit.  Play fast and loose with an e and you have quite and quiet.  Stare at it long enough...q-u-i-t...and it looks misspelled or not even a word.  But it's a word that has dominated life in this household for not just 5 months, but more like 5 years. 

Stare at the word quit for 5 years, go ahead, you try it...it doesn't just look like a typo anymore, it looks impossible.  It becomes huge and impenetrable and sneaky and humilitating.  But for those of us on the outside, those of us who aren't staring at those 4 meaningless letters 24 hours a day, quit looks easy.  But it isn't. 

I have been asked a few times, and I have asked myself at least a thousand times...so when do I quit.  But that isn't easy either.  Because what is the question...quit hoping?, quit helping?, quit loving?, quit trying?, quit caring?  And the only answer I can come up with, after 5 months, after 5 years, is not yet.  Quit is a big word.

I spend hours reading cookbooks, researching recipes, finding out how to make things and make things better.  Recipes are lists of ingredients and techniques, which you hope all come together to make someting good.  But once the cookie has been made, if it isn't good, there aren't instructions for unmaking it, for taking it apart.   Instead, you have to look at what happened, look at what went into it, change something, and start all over again.  Make it again but do it differently.  Don't quit. 

It is so very French to give a name, and a nobel sounding name at that, to a seemingly simple combination of 4 spices.  Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg...and Black Pepper.  But it's a combination of flavors that works on more than one level.  It's a situation where the personalities of each part, each spice, are present, individually, but they also work together to create something altogether unique...the flavor of Quatre Epices.  

It doesn't happen very often...why give it up. 
Quit - Stop - End.... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...Start - Begin - Continue
Croquet Bordelais
Ground Almonds                 3 cups
AP Flour                            1 1/2 cups
Baking Powder                   2 tsp
Salt                                   1 tsp
Quatre Epices                     4 tsp (see below)
Butter, room temp              4 1/4 oz
Sugar                                 1 2/3 cups
Orange Zest                        from 1 orange
Eggs                                   2 (+1 for egg wash)

Quatre Epices
Black Pepper                       2 tsp
Ground Cinnamon                 2/3 tsp
Ground Cloves                     2/3 tsp
Ground Nutmeg                   2/3 tsp

1.  Mix together the ground almonds, flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.
2.  With mixer, cream the butter and sugar until smooth.  Add the orange zest and mix   briefly.  Add the eggs, one at a time - mixing thoroughly after each addition. 
3.  With mixer on low speed, add the almond mixture from Step 1, scraping the bowl as necessary.  
4.  Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a pice of plastic wrap.  Pat the dough into a rectangle, 9 x 6 inches.  Wrap in the plastic, smoothing the edges of the dough after it si wrapped in the plastic.  Freeze overnight.
5.  Preheat the oven to 375.  
6.  Cut the dough into thirds (along the 9-inch side).  Return two of the pieces two the freezer. 
7.  Cut each piece into 13 pieces (they will be 3 x .5 inch cookies).  Place them on parchment (or Silpat) lined sheet pans.  Repeat with the 2 remaining pieces of dough.
8.  Brush with egg wash and bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown. 
9.  They will firm up into a delicious crunchy cookie - perfect for dunking - as they cool.

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