The Queen of Cookies

Posted on September 8, 2011


I sometimes fantasize about having one of those cooking shows, the kind with a set that looks like a fully-equipped kitchen, even though it’s really no more than a stove, sink, and countertop surrounded by big cameras and people holding up cue cards just out of sight. The cooking itself would be largely an illusion, too. I’d have a crew that was responsible for all of the peeling, chopping, and washing. They would prepare my ingredients for me and put them into separate bowls, so I could whip together any unbelievable dish in a matter of minutes and look like a master chef without once slicing open a finger or having my forehead scalded with splattering oil. And of course, I’d have the crew make a completely cooked version of the meal ahead of time, so I could slide it out of the oven and give my guests a taste and listen to them say, “Mmm. Wow. That is incredible.” The audience would break into wild applause as I look into the camera to advise my viewers at home: “For more delicious recipes, be sure to visit our website. See you next time!”

Until then, I have to be content with describing how to make stuff and hoping that you’ll try it, or at least finish reading the directions. Last time, you may recall, we baked Melissa’s Prize-Winning Cheesecake, a pretty complex dessert that required me to become uncharacteristically obnoxious. That seems to be how it is, though, with famous chefs. They’re always mad and they yell at everyone, I think because they’re geniuses and have exacting standards. Still, it seems a bit incongruous for someone to wear an apron and one of those ridiculous hats and be screaming because the egg whites aren’t frothy enough.

The cheesecake project is an especially demanding one, but for me, it’s like scaling Mount Everest — well worth the preparation needed, the cost of ingredients and supplies, and the time and effort involved. And if a few lives are lost along the way, well, we are talking about cheesecake, after all. (Melissa herself recently discovered the post and left a nice comment.)

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Today I’d like to tell you about another favorite dessert of mine, Biscotti Regina, or Sicilian Sesame Cookies. If the cheesecake was Mount Everest, this one, at first glance, may appear to be a lowly hillock. (Please don’t get distracted and go running to a dictionary. A hillock is nothing more than a hill; I use the longer term here because it makes me sound intellectual, an alternate image I’ve selected given that I can’t have tantrums and throw frying pans like other great culinary artists.) But be assured: these simple cookies are yet another lofty peak in my mountain range of desserts. Biscotti Regina are slightly sweet, buttery cookies coated with toasted sesame seeds. They’re perfect with a cup of coffee, tea, or cold milk. Don’t eat them in bed, though — an error in judgment I won’t make again. And if you have a few while you’re driving, plan to stop at the car wash so you can vacuum the front seats.

These sesame cookies have only six ingredients. They don’t require a mixer, a springform pan, or gadgets of any kind. In fact, I’d guess you already have everything you need, except maybe the sesame seeds.

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2 cups of white flour
½ cup of granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup of butter, softened but not melted
1 egg
About ½ cup of sesame seeds

By the way, if you’re thinking of using whole wheat flour, brown sugar, margarine, fake eggs, or any other weird item that’s supposed to be healthier, good luck. You’re not going to end up with Sicilian Sesame Cookies, and I don’t want to know about it.

1. Put the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl and mix them. If you’re feeling playful, you may form a hillock with the flour mixture, but it isn’t necessary.

2. Add the egg and blend that in.

3. Work in the softened butter.

4. Knead the mixture just until you don’t see the flour anymore. If the dough seems too dry and can’t be formed into a ball, splash in a tiny amount of warm water. Once you have the ball of dough, cover the bowl with a clean towel and set it aside in a fairly warm spot for an hour. Don’t keep peeking at it. Nothing is going to happen. The dough won’t get any bigger or look any different when you come back. If you’re wondering what the reason is for setting the dough aside for an hour, I have no idea. It could be that someone added that step just to make it seem as though he possessed some secret information for achieving better results.

5. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

6. Have two greased cookie sheets ready.

7. Pour the sesame seeds into a small bowl. If you have extra, seal them well and put them in the refrigerator. Sesame seeds tend to turn rancid if left out. I’m not sure what rancid means, but it doesn’t sound good.

8. There are at least two ways to do the next step. (a) One method is to cut the ball of dough into four equal sections. Then roll each section out on a clean surface until you’ve formed a snake, about the thickness of your thumb. Now cut slices off the rolled-out snake, with each slice about the length of your thumb. (See? No gadgets. Just your thumb.) Drop the pieces, one at a time, into the sesame seeds. Turn them over, then place them onto the cookie sheet. Keep the cookies at least an inch apart.

(b) Another method is to leave the dough intact and grab off pieces that seem to be right for a thumb-size cookie. They don’t have to all be exactly the same, and they’ll taste just as good if some are shorter, longer, or crooked.

9. If you have room for the cookie sheets to be side-by-side in the oven, bake them that way, but don’t put one over the other. Wait 20 minutes and take a look. If the cookies are starting to look golden brown, you can stop baking them. Or you can leave them in for a few more minutes, until they turn a darker brown. Obviously, the darker cookies will be a little drier, but the sesame seeds will have more flavor. You could also take some cookies out and leave some in longer, then compare the taste. I broil the tops for the last minute or so — but if you’re going to do that, don’t walk away from the oven. You’ll get distracted and the cookies will turn to charcoal. If you do burn them, I don’t want to know about that either.

10. Allow the cookies to cool for at least fifteen minutes. I usually can’t wait, and I try to have one when they’re still hot, causing extreme inner mouth discomfort. But that won’t happen when I have my own cooking show. My crew will check the cookie temperature for me, then hold up cue cards to let me know they’re safe to eat. And after we go off the air, I’ll put on my master chef hat and scream at everyone.

For more delicious recipes, get yourself a cookbook. See you next time!

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