Yep, it's been a whole month since my very first Daring Bakers' Challenge! Soon we'll all be exclaiming that we can't believe it is August already, possibly followed by a quip about when Christmas decorations will start being seen in the supermarket.
So, this month's challenge was plural - challenges - and thus this post is Part 1 of a gripping two part series. I made the Milan Cookies (which I like to be a little pretentious about and call Milano Cookies) not very long after the challenge was first announced, as that recipe was a little less challenging in terms of technique, and also in terms of shopping, when compared with the marshmallow cookies. The only thing slightly out of the ordinary in terms of ingredients was the lemon extract, easily found in a supermarket, and I had all the necessary tools on hand.
This baking event marked my final experience with my dodgy oven, before it was finally put out to pasture with all the old burnt out blenders (oh the smell of a burning motor), broken fridges with no doors and rusty fondue sets. My only regret is that I was not there to see it being ripped out, though luckily my absence did not mean my oven thermometer met a similar fate. I did get to spend some long intimate moments with the dodgy oven during this final cookie project together, as the Milano Cookies recipe makes a lot of cookies! I was a bit of a machine in the kitchen that night - piping cookie mixture onto trays, putting them in the oven, turning the trays around so they cooked evenly, taking them out at different times depending on whether they were on the top shelf or the bottom, letting them cool long enough on the tray so they firmed up a bit before transferring to a rack and starting the process again and again (and I do believe I was so terribly busy making cookies that I couldn't possibly cook dinner and was forced to have a roo burger from Jus Burgers, oh deary me what a shame).
So, the cookies. Would I make them again? Probably not, to be perfectly honest. They were really a very tasty cookie, and enjoyed by all who ate them, but I think their presentation lets them down. Perhaps if I were more skilled in piping them all perfectly the same shape and size, and perhaps if I tweaked the recipe a little so that they were a little thicker and crisper I would be happier. A lot of other bakers seemed to have these same issues, particularly with the cookies softening too much after being filled. The soft chewiness was pleasant, and the overall texture was reminiscent of a tuille, but I guess my personal preference is to have a bit more crunch to my cookie.
Oh and I haven't made a typo with the recipe - it is actually 2 tablespoons of vanilla and lemon extracts! Seems like madness but it actually works. The flavour is not overpowering, and pairs really nicely with the chocolate ganache.
(This point reminds me of something I would like to point out as some people may not be aware of it - you need to be mindful of the differences between measurements between countries. 1 US tablespoon is equal to 1 UK tablespoon which is equal to 15 mL (3 teaspoons) while 1 Aussie tablespoon is equal to 20 mL (4 teaspoons). 1 US cup is equal to 240 mL (well, 236.59 mL) while 1 Aussie cup is equal to 250 mL and 1 UK cup is 285 mL! While these differences may be totally moot in many recipes, there are others in which it may make noticeable differences to the taste, texture or look of the final product so it's worthwhile bearing these, however subtle, differences in mind.)
While I followed the recipe provided by our month's host, I also made a few variations to the original recipe with the ganache fillings, doing some with mini m&ms, some with roasted/crushed hazelnuts stirred through, and some with a bit of a Cherry Ripe theme with chopped glace cherries and shredded coconut mixed through.
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website
Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 0 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 0 min
Serves: about 3 dozen cookies
12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon extract
1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour
Cookie filling, recipe follows
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 orange, zested
1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.