Elemental cookies

Munch, crunch, no room for lunch—today we gorged on cookies. Chef Janine Sciarappa, a graduate of the BU culinary program, spent the day with us discussing the fundamentals of pastry and helping us successfully bake three different kinds of sweet treats. The recipes were basic, but the hope was that with a solid foundation and more practice, we would begin to feel confident attempting our own recipes and flavor combinations.

 Left to right: diamond sable cookies, cantuccini, and graham crackers

Left to right: diamond sable cookies, cantuccini, and graham crackers

We began with cantuccini, a classic Italian almond biscotti that is traditionally served with a sweet wine called Vin Santo. The simple almond-studded dough was blended by hand and shaped into logs that were baked until firm. Diagonal slices then transformed the logs into the biscotti shape we are all familiar with. The word means "twice cooked" in Italian, so the slices were put back in the oven to turn crisp and brown. Perfect for dunking.

S'mores will never be the same again now that we've all made our own graham crackers. The buttery and toothsome rounds were made from a mixture of all-purpose and graham flours, butter, cinnamon, and honey. Instead of a labor-intensive cutting technique, we simply rolled out the dough and cut circles with a cookie cutter. To be honest, I was looking forward to channeling my inner perfectionist with a ruler and fluted pastry wheel, but the circle cutters did just fine. 

I did literally get my hands right into the baking process when we mixed sable dough on our work surface, the old-world way. Sables (pronounced SAH-bles) are a classic French shortbread cookie that have a fine, sandy texture. To form layers of butter (similar to pie dough), we kneaded the dry ingredients into the fat using long strokes with the heel of our hand. This dough was also rolled into a log, but to make them even prettier, they were brushed with egg and dusted with sanding sugar before being sliced and baked. The finished cookies were crisp, petite, and lightly browned—impossible to eat just one.

As an avid home baker, I found today's recipes quite familiar and easy to understand. My partner Sam and I made pretty quick work of the 3 batches of cookies. But Janine will be coming back later in the semester and I look forward to learning some more advanced pastry techniques like pate-a-choux (the base for eclairs and cream puffs), cake decorating, and French macarons. Stay tuned for more pastry with Janine in the coming weeks.