Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Eduard's Father's Mother's cookies

I have a recipe for a spice cookie that is downright Middle Eastern. The types of spices used are almost all imported from the Asian area, yet it claims to be European in origin. So let me show you this marvelous cookie.
In the USA it is called a cookie. In Europe it might be a biscuit. The German name is Mandelschnitzel- or Almond shingles/slices. This cookie contains cardamom from India, Cinnamon from Ceylon, Mace which is the out husk of nutmeg (I am not sure of the origin) and Allspice which is curiously from North America. I suspect the original recipe used clove but I am not sure. There is a lot of sugar, some eggs and wheat flour- fine white wheat flour.
These cookies have no extra oil in them except what is in the egg yolk. They have almonds and walnuts which supply nut oils. In Europe, almost all the ingredients would be imported.
This recipe came to us from Eduard's side of the family. His grandparents traveled in Saudi Arabia extensively and other parts of the middle east. They were exposed to all types of cooking, baking and the smells of the markets. This recipe alone has survived. I am not certain if this recipe was gathered from the travels or handed down from generations that are even farther back in time.
Eduard's family originated somewhere near France. There is a bit of Ethnic middle Europe look to the family photos. As some point the family ancestors left the France area and migrated into Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark. Then they ended up in the United States. Since I can only determine a little of the past migratory route, I know that for a period of time, the grandparents were in Montana, then Colorado. And eventually, Eduard's father came to Southern California.
This recipe became a favorite of Eduard's mother and she made it for the holiday season. It became a favorite of Eduard, and now I make it for the holiday season.
Here is the recipe:

2 cups of sugar
2 cups of flour (all purpose or cake flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 pound ground walnuts
1/4 pound ground almonds
2 tablespoons freshly ground cardamom
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Mace
1/2 teaspoon Allspice
4 eggs separated

Set oven for 350f (usa not metric).  Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Add sugar and beat until light peaks form. Add egg yolk, spices, flour, and baking powder. Stir to incorporate. Then add nuts all at once and stir to incorporate. Don't beat much as you don't want to develop the gluten in the flour.
The original recipe required you to form the cookies and rest them overnight on the cookie sheet. Dust with flour, turn them over, and bake. I found this to be too much work. So I use a scoop or spoon and make 1 inch balls (12 to a cookie sheet) which I place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Then flatten the balls with a damp finger or spoon. Bake them immediately at 350f for 12 minutes or until just starting to turn golden brown on the edges. I cannot tell any taste or texture difference between the long rest method and the spoon scoop method. I suspect there were other reasons for this baking method which were not explained along the way.
This recipe will make 4 dozen (48) good size cookies, but you can make them smaller and bake them 1 minute less.
In our house, I make this recipe several times because Eduard likes to give them away to friends and family. And I have to admit they are kind of addictive. The spices go well with hot tea late at night. He likes his with coffee. The cardamom flavor and smell lingers in your nose and mouth for a long time. These cookies would store well for a long time in an air tight container, except that Eduard usually finishes them before they have much time in the jar.

The History of Food is our current topic of study during our evening hours. We have lectures and books to help us understand where spices originated, how past generations ate and prepared foods, and how time influenced eating habits. These cookies are definitely indulgences at any time in history except now, however, they may have originated before Victorian times. This is because the early use of sugar was in preparation of meats and sauces. The push to use sugar only for sweet dessert foods came at a later time in history (around 1600) when the discovery of the new world led to more sugar cane production. The use of Allspice, a new world spice, is also an indication that this particular recipe has been adapted to more recent times.

So it is December and I am baking cookies. The house smell exotic and fragrant with spices. I am searching for my tea stash. Happy Holidays.

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