February 12, 2010

"My mind to me a kingdom is"

The title of this blog post is courtesy of Sir Edward Dyer, an English poet in the late 1500's, whom I never heard of, English major that I was, until just a couple of days ago while reading a Thomas Hardy novel, The Return of the Native.  Sometimes I feel that way, as though living in my mind, although there are times when it doesn't always seem like much of a kingdom.  The poem from which the line comes, which you'll find here, speaks of those without kingdoms in their minds because they're always craving something else, something more.  I find myself craving more.  But I also find myself retreating into my mind a lot, finding solitude when whirling thoughts cease, finding sanity when able to think clearly.  At any rate, the poem is inspiring, except when thinking about this recent batch of cookies, one my baking sensibilities have craved since first happening upon the recipe.

Let me tell you, these cookies do not come together quickly.  When first shaping the dough, cutting and stacking and rolling it to make the pretty swirl design, my mind wasn't feeling any desire to ever make them again, but after letting the dough chill over night and finding out how easy it was in the morning to simply slice off rounds and bake them, the process didn't seem so bad.  And now, tasting the results, the oh-so-satisfying results, I'm sure I'll make them again, and again, and again, if only once a year or so.  It did make over eighty cookies, you know.  That's a lot to handle, even if the benefits are well worth the effort.

It's a fun recipe to make for Valentine's day, a sweet one to share with friends and family, combining basic flavors not many people would refuse, chocolate and vanilla.  They're soft and rather mild, with just a hint of almond detectable in the chocolate swirls and a slight crunch on the edges due to the raw sugar.  They're also very light because of the few ingredients used, thankfully.  Just one is not enough.  Three or four is a more likely serving.

Since the recipe makes so many, you may find yourself in more of a generous mood to share with others, although you may also find them just as easy to hoard, they're so irresistible.  The marriage of chocolate and vanilla, soft center and crunchy edge, and almond and chocolate result in a cookie you'll crave again and want to bake again.  Unlike truffles and chocolate cakes and all things intensely rich with cocoa that become overwhelming after eating one too many pieces, a cookie like this won't do that.  When you're feeling a craving for something light that still satisfies a chocolate urge, these are the way to go.

If I've mentioned this before, please forgive me for repeating myself, but I find baking to be therapeutic on occasion.  Focusing on a recipe and making it the best possible pushes most other thoughts from my mind, causing the time spent to work almost like that poem.  Almost.

Chocolate Vanilla Swirl Cookies
Adapted from Pastry Studio

Vanilla Dough:
2 ¾ cups cake flour
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
¼ tsp salt
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Dough:
2 ¼ cups cake flour
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
½ cup plus 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp almond extract

Raw sugar, such as turbinado

For the Vanilla Dough:
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and mix with a handheld mixer on the lowest speed just to blend. Place the butter on top of the flour mixture and mix on the lowest speed just until it starts to appear lumpy. Add the vanilla and mix on the lowest speed just until the mixture is combined. You may need to mix with a wooden spoon a bit to get the dough to form. Gather the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

For the Chocolate Dough:
In another bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt and mix on the lowest speed to blend. Add the butter and proceed as above, then add the vanilla. Gather the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

To form into logs:
Divide the vanilla dough into thirds, with each piece weighing about 8 ounces. Divide the chocolate dough the same way. You will work with one-third of each dough at a time.

On a piece of parchment or clean work surface, flatten one piece of vanilla dough into a 7 x 5-inch rectangle, using your hands to keep the edges straight. Repeat this with a piece of the chocolate dough. Place the chocolate rectangle on top of the vanilla rectangle, then cut the stack in half crosswise to create 2 pieces, each about 3 ½ x 5-inch Place one half on top of the other half to create 4 layers. Press or roll the stack into a 9 x 4-inch rectangle. Cut the stack in half lengthwise to create two 9 x 2-inch pieces. Place one piece on top of the other to create a long narrow stack with 8 layers.

Carefully twist each end of the dough once or twice, gently working toward the center. Use your hands to twist the pattern and shape the swirled dough into a log about 8 ½ x 2-inch Set aside. Repeat this process with the remaining pieces of each dough to form two more logs. Compress each log with your hands so it is compact, gently rolling back and forth until the log is round and uniformly shaped.

Place the raw sugar in a baking pan, then roll each log in the sugar to coat. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours to chill thoroughly, or overnight as I did for baking the next morning.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325° F.

If dough is too hard to cut, let soften a few minutes on the counter. Use a sharp knife to cut generous ¼-inch slices and arrange ½-inch apart on rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment. I fit 18 cookies to a sheet.

Bake one sheet at a time just until cookies are no longer shiny on top and are lightly golden on the bottom, about 12 - 13 minutes. Let cool on sheet one minute, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 10 days.

Makes about 7 dozen cookies.

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