Sunday, April 11, 2010

Milano Cookies


Yesterday I went into Manhattan to see a friend’s senior recital at Julliard. It was wonderful. I’m amazed by the fact that at only eighteen she can play violin and piano, sing, and compose, and she does it all in a modest, effortless kind of way.

But A isn’t only a musician. She’s fun and friendly, always bouncing around and giving people hugs and making up words to fit her mood. She’s both a runner and a tennis player. She’s also brilliant at math and physics and she loves philosophy. She likes to talk about how the three relate to each other, how mankind’s knowledge of science affects our understanding of ourselves. She’s multifaceted amazing.

I’m like A in that way. Not that I’m as talented as her, but in that I have a lot of different interests spurting out in so many different directions. I love to bake, yes, but I also love to write and travel. I love biking and swimming. I can’t imagine living anywhere but a city but a part of me also dreams about hiking in the mountains and wandering through praries that stretch for miles. Sometimes I think about opening a bakery when I grow up, and spending my days in the kitchen whipping up buttercream frostings and kneading bread and nibbling on cookie dough scraps. Sometimes I think of myself as a writer or a poet, getting to work on my own schedule, reading and researching and writing as much as I want, whenever I want. I even wonder what it would be like to work on a farm, spending the summer months in endless green fields of strawberries and corn, every salad I eat filled with the satisfaction of knowing that I grew all the ingredients myself.

But something pulls me out of these daydreams and fills me with a sense of certainty that my future lies not among cookie dough scraps or pencils or carrot tops, but in journalism. Reality creeps in and chases away my fantasies like the sun chasing clouds, dispelling uncertainties and illuminating all the truths I need to learn to face. I’ll read a newspaper or see something on television about some tragedy in one corner of the world or another, and I know that I can’t simply sit and bake while there’s so much that needs to be done. Lately it’s been the reports that I read for my internship at Human Rights Watch. I’ll read that adults in Kenya are twice as likely to get treatment for HIV as children are, or that child domestic workers in Indonesia often work 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and I’m filled with indignation. I want to get up at that very minute and knock down the doors of the governments of Kenya and Indonesia and force things to change. At the very least I want to do something that will make other people aware of these injustices and inspire them to want to help. I imagine myself as a latter day Nellie Bly, a one-woman force of nature hurtling across the globe and fixing everything wrong with it as I go.

Right now there doesn’t seem to be much I can do. I do my best to learn all that I can, storing up information for when I have a chance to make a difference. I volunteer, I write for my school newspaper, I send the occasional letter to my congressman. When nothing else works I rant to my friends about how broken the world is, how much there is that needs to be done. And I fill the rest of my time doing the other things I love—listening to music and writing poetry and going on long bike rides. And, of course, baking.

I made these cookies for A’s concert, based on a recipe from 17 and Baking. These milano cookies are a perfect balance between delicate and crunchy, a layer of creamy dark chocolate between two sweet vanilla-y cookies. The perfect remedy for my despair over the world’s many problems. These cookies are delicious straight from the oven, but they tasted even better after a day in the fridge. Hopefully you can make them last that long.

Milano Cookies
(adapted from Elissa Bernstein, adapted from Gale Gand)

1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups of confectioners sugar
the egg whites from 6 eggs
2 tablespoons of vanilla extract
1 tsp of lemon juice
1 1/2 cups of flour

Chocolate filling
1/2 cup of heavy cream
8 ounces of dark chocolate, chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, cream the butter and the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla, lemon juice, and egg whites, then gently stir in the flour a little at a time. The batter will be a little wetter than traditional cookie dough.

Coat a cookie sheet with parchment paper and pipe cookie batter into a milano shape onto the pan. If you’re having trouble getting the cookies to be the right size, trace a milano-shaped cutout onto the paper (it’s what I did). Slide the cookie pan into the freezer for five minutes before baking, then bake the cookies in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are crispy and golden. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

When the cookies have cooled, melt chocolate with cream in a heavy saucepan over medium heat to make the filling. Let ganache cool for a few minutes. Spread chocolate on to the flat sides of one cookie and top with another to make a sandwich.

You can add other ingredients to these cookies as well. I put strawberry jam in addition to chocolate on some, which was delicious. I’m sure they would also taste good with orange or lemon zest in the chocolate, or peppermint extract.

(my cat was a big fan of these cookies)

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