This started as a happy post about cookies. Cookies that found their way to C&S in a serendipitous manner. The day after I experimented with them, took photos and ate enough to have them morph into a brick in my stomach, while getting ready to write the happy story on why I was sharing this particular recipe, the unexpected news reached me, and the cookie brick in my stomach was replaced by hollowness and panic.
I can’t possibly write about cookies, not in this frame of mind, I reasoned. But then I did, because everything in this story is strangely connected and I am using a (not so) humble cookie to celebrate what can still be.
Two years ago I left on an impromptu trip to Miami to meet a childhood friend I hadn’t seen in 30 years, and reconnected with on Facebook. The four days spent together, and with three other Italian women, turned into a fun-filled event that assumed epic contours in the eyes of the five of us, and one we haven’t been able to repeat, despite vowing to do so.
One of the five women is married to the pastry chef of a famed Florentine patisserie – a fact I couldn’t let go unwritten. Fast-forward many months letter, and C&S receives an email from a lovely lady in Connecticut who visits Florence on a yearly basis and who makes daily pilgrimages from her pensione to this particular pastry shop for her favorite cookie.
Struck by longing for the cookie once back in the States, this lovely woman resorts to combing the Internet for the recipe, and comes across my post. Could I help? Yes, actually I could. After much prodding on the part of his wife, the chef shares the recipe, which travels to Connecticut and then finds its way back to me, with photos to prove it. The recipe enticed me to try it in my own kitchen as I know first hand the quality of the goods Febo, the pastry chef at Alcedo Pasticceria, produces. This is not your everyday type of cookie, the one you put together in 10 minutes because a bunch of kids is coming over. These jewels require a few steps, but the end result is rewarding, complex and…as proven by my gluttony, addictive.
In my mind, these cookies have taken on a larger meaning. The woman at the heart of this story, the friend I reconnected with in Miami, without whom I would have never come across Febo, his wife or the lady from Connecticut, is now “sleeping” in a burn unit, third degree burns covering nearly half of her body. I cannot stop thinking of my beautiful, caring, funny and crazy friend, her life put on hold, her life now defined by this tragedy, and her uphill climb ahead.
As we filled each other in on the three decades our lives ran on parallel tracks without ever meeting, at one point she said “if they had told us then life was going to be so hard”. It seems her hardships are not done.
The other four of us who were there, two years ago, each of us scattered in different cities, have vowed that when this is over, when she will have climbed out of it, we will take another trip together, to celebrate her recovery. I might even bring a batch of these cookies along.
PISTACHIO AND RASPBERRY JEWELS – Recipe yields 4 dozens small cookies
Home-made almond paste
1/2 cup of pistachios, coarsely ground
A few teaspoons of raspberry jam
For the pate sucree
500 g flour
300 g butter, room temperature
225 g sugar
2 egg yolks
zest of one lemon
a pinch of salt
- Combine the sugar and lemon zest. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the yolks and mix.
- Add the flour and mix until combined, having care to scrape the dough from the sides of the mixer every so often. Should the dough be a touch too dry, add a few drops of brandy. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 20 minutes or so. Heat the oven to 180C/350F.
- Scoop four dozen rounds with a small ice-cream scoop or using a measuring spoon and place them on parchment covered cookie sheets. Flatten them slightly with your palm.
Bake for about 7 to 10 minutes, until half-way baked. The dough should still be pale with a faint golden halo around the edges. Let cool.
For the almond paste
200 g of peeled almonds, ground (or buy almond meal)
180 g sugar
1 ts vanilla
Zest of one small orange
3 egg whites
Whip the egg whites and sugar to medium but not overly stiff peaks. Add the zest and vanilla.
Fold in the almonds by hand.
Assembling the cookies
- Place the almond paste in a pastry bag. Cover the tops of the cooled cookies with it (alternately, use a spatula to spread the paste).
- Carefully dip the top of the cookies into the ground pistachios, which will stick very nicely to the paste.
- Using a small pastry bag or a teaspoon, place 1/4 of a teaspoon of jam into the center of the cookies. Dust with some powder sugar.
Bake at 200C/400F for 8 to 10 minutes, until the bottom of the cookies is a deep golden color.
Let cool and eat – maybe not as much as I did in one sitting.
Recipe courtesy of Pasticceria Alcedo – Via Gramsci 29, 50014 Fiesole (Florence)