Tuesday, December 5, 2006

I love to cook, and desserts are my not-so-secret indulgence, but I’ve never thought of myself as a baker, especially when it comes to cookies.

After more than three decades of teaching, my culinary files do not overflow with cookie recipes. Consequently, whenever the holiday baking season comes around, I scour new cookbooks for delectable creations.

This year I didn’t have to look far. My friend and fellow Francophile, Dorie Greenspan, completed work on “Baking: From My Kitchen to Yours” (Houghton Mifflin), and within the pages of this large, scrumptious collection, were enough cookie ideas (among many other confections) to satisfy my needs for years to come.

As a chocoholic, I zeroed in on the world peace cookies, which are aptly described as “butter-rich, sandy-textured, slice-and-bake cookies.” They were adapted from the celebrated French pastry chef Pierre Herme, but are simple enough for a home cook to master.

There’s a double dose of chocolate in the dough cocoa powder and coarsely chopped bits of bittersweet bars, but the secret ingredient is a generous seasoning of fleur de sel, a coarse sea salt, that intensifies the chocolate flavor.

I’ve made three batches of these cookies already and found that they are perfect for entertaining.

They made a fine accompaniment to a fresh fruit dessert at a small dinner my husband and I gave recently. On another occasion, I packed them into a basket and took them to a potluck supper, and when a friend stopped by unexpectedly (as they do during this season), I offered them with tea.

I’m also planning to stack these treats in cellophane bags tied with colorful ribbons and give them as hostess gifts to those who entertain us during the next few weeks.

World peace cookies were named by a neighbor of the author who believes that a daily dose of these sweet morsels are the best route to ensure planetary calm. I’m certain these chocolate delicacies could serve a diplomatic role, but for me, they are just what I’m looking for in a holiday cookie — easy to make, freezable and indulgent.

World peace cookies

Adapted from “Baking: From My Home to Yours” by Dorie Greenspan.

11/4 cups flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

½ teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer, in a large bowl, beat butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract, and beat 2 minutes more.

Turn off mixer. Pour in dry ingredients (drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour) and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time.

Take a peek. If there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel.

Continuing at low speed, for about 30 more seconds, just until flour disappears into dough. (For best texture, work the dough as little as possible once flour is added, and don’t be concerned if dough looks a little crumbly.) Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape dough into logs that are 1½ inches in diameter.

Wrap logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (Dough can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 months. If frozen, don’t defrost dough before baking, just slice logs into cookies and bake cookies 1 minute longer.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Using a sharp, thin knife, slice logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack when cut; don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange rounds on baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

Bake cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes. They won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s the way they should be.

Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let cookies rest until just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Makes about 36 cookies.

Storing note: Packed airtight, the cookies will keep at room temperature up to 3 days; they can be frozen for up to 2 months.


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