My daughter lost her beloved cat, Kashie, on New Year's Day of this year. I was with her at the time and it was very sad. In the weeks to follow, Annie continued to grieve. One Sunday afternoon in January we decided to visit the Museum of Science and Industry - as a distraction and to get Annie out of the house for a bit. I wanted to bring her some cookies on that day as a gesture of my love and concern. Cookies of the decadent sort - big, gooey chocolate chip cookies, lemon bars, or brownies just didn't seem appropriate. In fact, they might have even seemed an affront, almost disrespectful at such a sensitive time.
Oranges, particularly navel oranges, are at their peak in January. I picked up some beauties at Whole Foods with a thought toward using their rind as well as their juice. Then I remembered a cookie I had adapted from a recipe found in "Gourmet's Best Desserts" published by Condé Nast in 1987. The original recipe was a butter cookie made with both flour and cornstarch and contained dried currants. Cookies made with part cornstarch have a melt-in-your-mouth quality that is simultaneously crisp and tender (Australia's "Melting Moments" Cookies are in this category). The recipe as written resulted in a rather ordinary finished product - acceptable but lacking panache. The cookies seemed to be missing something. I played around with them, baking several batches and finally, I had a winner. I substituted cranberries for the currants, incorporated orange rind and extract, and added mini chocolate chips. The ratio of orange to chocolate was just right and the cranberries added flavor, texture and color.
These are a tea cookie - elegant, small, crisp - perfect with a cup of Earl Grey or Darjeeling, coffee, or perhaps a glass of Chardonnay or a snifter of Grand Mariner or Cointreau. They are meant to be eaten two or three at a time with some deliberation, not wolfed down randomly. They keep nicely in a cookie tin for about a week. If you know someone who is going through a rough patch, these cookies would make an especially thoughtful gift. Please note that the cookie dough must chill for at least three hours or overnight before baking.
ORANGE CHOCOLATE CRISPS
1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon non-aluminum baking powder, such as Rumford
1/2 teaspoon noniodized salt or fine sea salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar (superfine or C & H Baker's sugar preferred)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon pure orange extract
1-1/2 tablespoons grated orange peel (about two large oranges), colored part only
1 cup (one 5 oz. bag) moist dried cranberries, chopped
1 cup mini chocolate chips
In a medium bowl, stir the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt together with a wire whisk until well-blended. Set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter at medium speed. Add the sugar and beat for about two minutes. Add the egg, orange extract, and orange peel and beat for about a minute. Add the flour mixture in two batches, blending at low speed after each addition until the flour is just incorporated. Stir in the chopped dried cranberries and chocolate chips. Chill the dough for at least three hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or Reynolds Release foil.
Roll teaspoons of the dough into balls and arrange them two inches apart on the baking sheets. You should be able to comfortably fit 20 cookies on a 13"x17" cookie sheet. If your kitchen is very warm, keep the remainder of the dough chilled. Flatten each ball with the tines of a fork, pressing the tines in one direction only to form an oval cookie with a ribbed design. Bake the cookies in the middle of the oven for 10-12 minutes until they are golden around the edges. The cookies will remain rather pale and delicate looking. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in cookie tins for up to a week. Yields about 100 cookies, enough to keep a tin for yourself.
Note: The orange flavor predominates in this recipe. If you would like the flavor more subtle, just reduce the orange extract to 1-2 teaspoons and cut the amount of grated rind in half. I also see no reason why lemon rind and extract cannot be substituted for orange except that I am very fond of orange with chocolate. I have also substituted dried cherries for the cranberries and almond extract for the citrus rind. I am also considering a Rum-Raisin version, substituting 1/2 cup brown sugar for the white and adding 1 tsp. vanilla and 1-2 tablespoon(s) dark rum.