Cookies, Bars, and Confections The Book

174. Chocolate Sambuca Crinkle Cookies p.671

The recipe

This is a polarizing recipe. If the thought of anise and chocolate together piques your interest, you’ll probably like these cookies. If however that sounds like the worst idea you’ve heard all day, you probably won’t. That may sound trite or obvious, but anise is like that. I don’t know anyone who is neutral on the subject of black licorice. People love it, hate it, or have a complex ambivalence towards it. If a recipe is anise scented, you know right off the bat that that’s going to be a dominant element of the recipe’s flavour.

I’m all for anise, I especially like it in savory cooking, I have a little trouble with those super salty licorice candies the Dutch love, but otherwise anise and I are good. When I first flipped through the cookies section of The Book these ones caught my eye, and I’ve been looking forward to making them ever since. I haven’t done them until now because they needed to be served in the right context. My dining companion and I aren’t huge on desserts, so I usually try to serve them when we have friends over, or to bring them places. It’s hard to bring chocolate-anise cookies to a party or dinner, because you know going in that lots of people are going to hate them. I had to wait until I was making batches and batches of cookies, so that they could be one among many elements of a cookie tray.

The cookie recipe is fairly standard. You sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, melt bittersweet chocolate and butter in a double boiler, and whisk together eggs, walnuts, Sambuca, and sugar. You then add the chocolate and flour mixtures to the egg mixture and combine. You pop the batter in the fridge for two hours, then roll heaping tablespoons of dough into balls, and toss them in confectioner’s sugar before baking.

The sugar causes the tops to crack, and I was hoping it was going to give the uncracked parts a nice glaze. As you can see a lot of the sugar stayed in white clumps, which I didn’t find too attractive. The insides of the cookies were soft and cakey, studded with walnuts. As predicted chocolate, and anise were the dominant flavours. I used Pernod instead of Sambuca for this recipe (a Book approved substitution), but I should have remembered that Sambuca is much sweeter than Pernod and compensated.

For people who are into anise cookies, these were quite good. They weren’t the most beautiful cookies I’ve ever produced, but the texture was very nice, and the rich chocolate and anise combination was a winner for me. I try to take other people’s opinions into account when rating these recipes, I usually estimate other’s average ratings, and split the difference between their liking and mine. But we have a bimodal distribution here, and the mean is no longer a meaningful statistic, the mode or the median aren’t much help either. Since this is the food blog part of my life, and not the behavioral neurobiology part, I get to violate good statistical practice, and just ignore all those anise haters.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

142. Oysters Rockefeller p.52

This recipe from Epicurious is similar to The Book’s version, but the linked recipe has slightly different proportions, and makes twice as much topping. I didn’t read the recipe very thoroughly, and used little Malpeque oysters for the recipe, instead of the “large” oysters the recipe called for, so I had more than enough topping.

We used to get Oysters Rockefeller about once a year as children. My parents would pick up a case of Oysters for themselves, or get a few cases and invite friends over for an oyster party. Us kids were totally grossed out by raw oysters, and dared one another to try slurping them. Inevitably one of us would take the bet, and then gag on the slippery salty oyster, and spit it into the sink. My parents quickly realized this game was a waste of precious oysters, and started making Oysters Rockefeller for us, which we devoured. As I grew up I came around on the raw oyster, and ended up preferring them raw with just a little squeeze of lemon juice, or a dash of hot sauce.

During my late teens and early twenties I was a volunteer firefighter, and our department had an oyster and beer bash every fall. Mostly people came to the party to shuck and slurp raw oysters at long tables all night long, but we prepared oyster soup and oysters Rockefeller too. I would spend the afternoon shucking oysters and saving the prettiest shells. I never got the department’s recipe, but they did an especially fine version of the oyster Rockefeller. Even though I prefer my oysters without adulterations, I certainly wouldn’t say no to one.

Unfortunately this recipe doesn’t live up to either my Mother’s or the department’s version. Using the wrong oysters threw the whole recipe out of whack, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. You start by making a mixture of chopped Boston lettuce, baby spinach, scallions, parsley, celery, garlic, and bread crumbs. You then wilt this mixture in a skillet with butter, and add Pernod, anchovy paste, cayenne, salt, and pepper. The mixture is allowed to cool, while you crisp and crumble some bacon. You then add an oyster and some of it’s liquor to a cleaned oyster shell, top with some of the vegetable mixture, bacon, and more bread crumbs. The oysters then get stabilized on a bed of salt crystals, and go into a 450 oven for 16 – 18 minutes.

My main criticism of the recipe is that there were way too many bread crumbs. The crumbs soaked up all of the oyster liquor, and overwhelmed the oysters with their sandy texture. Even if I’d used gigantic Pacific oysters that would have been a problem. Using the smaller oysters also meant that they were overcooked and dry by the time the the tops were browned. Unfortunately my little oysters got completely lost under a mountain of spinach and bread crumbs. I could almost detect a hint of the sea in this dish, and I thought I found the oyster in a couple of them, but it could have been a clump of bread crumbs. Given the excess of topping, I was surprised at the lack of bacon, you could easily have doubled it without going overboard.

Done right, oysters Rockefeller have a just barely set oyster, with a good deal of liquor left at the bottom, and a flavourful crunchy topping. They can compliment and accentuate the oyster, leaving it as the star of the show. My oysters were, dry, didn’t taste like oysters, and didn’t even try to compensate with bacon. It’s hard to give the recipe a fair rating, because I messed things up. I’m sure that the topping had too little bacon, and too many bread crumbs, I would have liked the anise flavour of the Pernod to come through a little more clearly as well. My final product didn’t taste too bad, but I would have saved an hour, and enjoyed myself more if I’d just slurped the oysters raw.