Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Craig Claiborne's Cardamom Cookies, aka cardamom snaps  

The first time that I needed to make an "important dessert" for a very fancy dinner party, I called one of my college roommates, the one who Bakes. I told her that I wanted to bake a fabulous chocolate cake, something that would go well with port. Her reply to me, in her clipped Boston accent, was, "Maida Heatter." "What?" "Maida Heatter. Get one of her baking books. My wedding cake? That was from one of her recipes. And she writes well, too. You'll enjoy reading them." So I bought a couple of her books, and kept them beside my bed for weeks, reading recipes. Then I taste-tested several cakes on a group of very happy friends, and found just the right cake for the dinner party. That, however, is another story for another time.

This recipe comes from Maida Heatter's Brand New Book of Great Cookies, a copy of which I gave my mother several years ago. While I have neither made nor eaten these cookies, I have it on good authority that they are wonderful. Said authority recommends doubling the amount of cardamom in the recipe. As I do enjoy Ms. Heatter's writing, I'm including the entire entry for this recipe. It has been a while since I transcribed anything verbatim from a book; doing so has been a reminder that my touch-typing is not what it once was. So, after spell-checking, I give you Maida Heatter:

Craig Claiborne's Cardamom Cookies
36 cookies

   Craig is my hero. Not only is he my all-time favorite cookbook author, but even if he had never written a recipe, I would love him just as much. This delicious cookie is from his book, An Herb and Spice Cookbook, which was published in 1963.
   Did you ever use cardamom? I did, but I never really tasted it until I tried this recipe. This time, instead of buying ground cardamom, I bought the whole seeds and peeled and ground them myself just before using. There is a big difference in flavor - involved and exotic but mellow.
   I have often bought packaged cookies and thought the texture of the cookies divine. I read the ingredients to see if I could find out what was responsible for the texture. The list of ingredients included so many strange names of chemicals that I didn't have a clue as to what had made them so crisp, flaky, sandy and light. Well, these cookies have that same elusive texture by no strange-sounding ingredients.
   These are lovely, simple cookies with an unusual flavor and texture - and once you have prepared the cardamom (it takes a few minutes), they are quick and easy.

A few teaspoonfuls whole cardamom (to make 1/2 teaspoon ground)
2 1/4 cup sifted unbleached flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 packed cup light brown sugar
1 large egg

   Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with baking parchment or aluminum foil, shiny side up; set aside.
   The cardamom pods may be green or bleached. The green will have a little more flavor than the bleached, but they're both good. To prepare them, work on a cutting board. With a sharp knife cut a few teaspoonfuls of the pods in half the long way. Then either shake the seeds (they will be black and/or gray) out of the shells, or, if necessary, use the point of a small knife to nudge them out. Discard the shells. Grind the seeds in an electric grinder; you could use a coffee grinder or a pepper mill (I use a Cuisinart Mini-Mate). Strain through a fine sieve. Measure 1/2 teaspoon; set aside.
   Sift together the flour and cream of tartar; set aside.
   In the small or large bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter until soft. Add the ground cardamom, baking soda, and salt; beat to mix. Beat in the sugar, then the egg. Finally, on low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients and beat until incorporated.
   Flour a pastry cloth and a rolling pin. Work with half the dough at a time. Roll out the dough until it is 1/4 inch thick. Cut with a round cookie cutter (I use a 2-inch round cutter). Place the cookies 1 1/2 inches apart on the lined sheets.
   Bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes, reversing the sheet front to back once after 5 minutes. The cookies will rise and puff up during baking, and then they will begin to settle down a bit just when they are done. When done, they will be a light-golden honey color all over.
   With a wide metal spatula transfer to racks to cool; when cool, store in an airtight container.

Happy baking to all ('mouse and any other creatures stirring).