All right, enough with the parsnip and cabbage. Let’s have dessert.
Around this time every year, I go cookie hunting. (In fact, I just noticed that it was exactly one year ago to the day that I posted last year’s find. What are the chances of that?) I know I’m not the only one. We all have our tried and trues, but the cookie tin wants what the cookie tin wants, and come December, what it wants is something new. So we take to our cookbooks, our magazines, our piles of recipes, printed and clipped, and armed with sticky tabs, off we go. We’re never sure exactly what we’re looking for. We’ll know it when we see it.
The December cookie once traveled in packs (sometimes, it still does). Today, it most often flies solo, like the one I spotted yesterday among the beasts and fowl, vegetation, and other edibles of a new, already-beloved cookbook. There, in the glorious habitat of Dorie Greenspan’s Paris kitchen, I discovered a whole new species.
It’s called a croquant, and its identifying characteristics are difficult to describe. Imagine a cross between a macaroon (this variety) and a meringue. It’s sort of like that. Croquant means crunchy, and crunchy it is, though not in the typical way. To me, crunchy cookies mean sugar cookies, buttery slabs that snap when you bite in. The croquant takes crunchy in a different direction. “Airy” is not a word that I usually associate with cookies, especially not the crisp kind, but here, it works. That’s because of the way this cookie crumbles, which is not like a cookie at all. It crumbles more like a cracker, specifically, like those rice crackers with practically no ingredients. You know the ones. Croquants are similarly simple, with just four ingredients to speak of. When I was chopping the nuts, then stirring them in with the sugar, then the egg whites, then the flour, I had trouble picturing what a cookie empty of butter, and oil, and extracts, and leavening, would even look like. Well, it looks like this, people:
And it’s worth every bit of its nonexistent salt. The croquant is a rare bird, indeed.
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Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table
One teaspoon of dough per cookie will look like a pitifully small amount, but don’t be alarmed. The dough spreads and puffs into a perfect two-to-three-bite cookie as it bakes. As you might imagine from the ingredient list, these cookies are quite sweet. That makes them very nice with a cup of unsweetened coffee or tea or, my favorite, warm milk.
About the nuts: I used a combination of unskinned hazelnuts and almonds, which Dorie Greenspan says is the most popular in these croquants. She also notes that the version she makes with salted cashews is her "house favorite." I'm thinking of making a batch with pecans or walnuts the next time around.
3½ ounces (about a cup) of nuts, barely chopped
1¼ c. sugar
2 large egg whites
½ c. plus 1 Tbsp. flour, sifted
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Put the nuts and the sugar in a medium mixing bowl and stir together with a rubber spatula. Stir in the egg whites, then the flour, to form a loose dough. Don’t worry if it looks more like a grainy batter than any cookie dough you’ve ever seen. It’s supposed to look that way.
Drop the dough by the teaspoonful onto the parchment-lined baking sheets. The dough will spread, so be sure to leave about 2 inches between each mound of dough. You can use your finger to round the edges of each one.
Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through, until they puff up, and the tops crackle and brown. I baked these cookies one sheet at a time. If you want to bake two sheets at once, swap the upper and lower sheets after the first 4-5 minutes so that your cookies will brown evenly.
Place the baking sheet on a cooling rack, and let the cookies stand for about 10 minutes, until you can easily peel them away from the parchment. Transfer the cookies to the cooling rack, and allow them to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the remaining dough. Use a cool baking sheet each time, or your dough will start to melt and spread before you even make it to the oven.
Store in a dry, covered container – not in a plastic bag or plastic wrap – or they will lose their crunch.
Dorie Greenspan says that this recipe makes 34 cookies. Using a level teaspoon of dough for each cookie and rather large bits of nuts, I had closer to 50.