Over the years, I’ve reduced my magazine budget and now I’m down to subscribing to two food magazines: Cook’s Illustrated and Fine Cooking. The two have in common that they are teaching tools.
Cook’s Illustrated is terrifically technical; if you want to know EXACTLY why it’s important to cover the pot or add the liquid to the dry ingredients, they’ll tell you. The stories consist of efforts to perfect familiar dishes and are chronicles of their exhaustive rounds of tests.
The lesser known Fine Cooking is a bit more relaxed, with full-color photos and seasonal features. However, it’s still oriented toward education, with lots of how-to stories and instructional guides to ingredients, tools and techniques. The August-September issue (the magazine comes out six times a year), covers the science of cooking rice, how to make great Southern fried chicken and what makes a top performing blender.
Paging through the ‘zine, I found myself interested in a story about putting together a stress-free midsummer party. Every recipe looked good to me. Within minutes, I was in the kitchen, checking ingredients for the olive oil-orange-pine nut cookies that were the suggested meal-ender. I hadn’t read the story, just checked out the photos and recipes. Then I figured out why the story was speaking to me: It was written by David Leite, author of “The New Portuguese Table” and the dishes all that Mediterranean roots — my home food.
I love olive oil-based baking. If you think it sounds weird, next time you go to Big Island Candies, check out their Viviente line — light sugar cookies made with olive oil and a number of different flavors. Mmmmmmmmmm. I also make an olive oil-based cake. Olive oil makes for a more open texture in a cake, a moist crumb and offers a hint of earthy flavor.
In my first test of this recipe, I made a happy mistake. I store my flours in canisters and I managed to pull out the canister that contained masa harina (fine-ground cornmeal flour) instead of unbleached all-purpose flour. I didn’t figure out what I’d done until the dough was mixed but I decided to bake them and see what happened; Portuguese often bake with cornmeal.
It worked! Though rather dense, crumbly and on the harder side, these cookies were delicious and I found myself going back to the cookie jar day after day. The flavor actually develops and intensifies over time.
Next, I tried making the cookies with part flour and part masa harina. That worked well, too but I actually liked the cornmeal version better. You could make them with all flour if you don’t have masa harina on hand.
These cookies go together quickly. The only thing that takes any time is grating the fresh orange peel (do NOT use the bottled, dehydrated variety). And the only thing that’s a bummer about it is the price of pine nuts (auwe!!!!).
Testing notes: To assure that the zest is spread throughout the dough, scatter it over the flour mixture; don’t dump it in the bowl in one place. I got many fewer cookies than the recipe suggests because I pinched off too much dough; keep it to a teaspoon and be sure to flatten the cookies well. Do not forget to dredge the dough in sugar; it’s important to the proper balance of sweet to the smoky flavor of the toasted pine nuts. When I doubled the recipe, the dough was too crumbly to pinch; I added 1/8 cup of milk to moisten the mixture a bit and that solved the problem.
Pine Nut and Orange Cookies
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup masa harina (fine ground cornmeal)
1/4 cup sugar, plus more for rolling
3 tablespoons finely grated orange zest (2 oranges)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Scatter pine nuts in a rimmed baking pan and place in preheated oven to toast, about 5 minutes (until you can smell the fragrance).
In a medium bowl sift together flour, sugar, zest, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and pine nuts. In a small bowl, whisk together oil and egg and add to dry ingredients. Mix with your hands until dough is evenly moist and holds together when squeezed, 1-2 minutes.
Place about 1/4 cup sugar on a flat plate or bowl. Pinch off a rounded teaspoonful of dough, roll and coat with sugar. Place on a light-colored nonstick cookie sheet. Dip the bottom of a drinking glass in sugar and flatten cookie to slightly less than 1/4 inch thick.
Bake until tops are golden and edges brown — 9 to 13 minutes. Cool on the sheet for several minutes, then transfer to a rack. Bake one sheet at a time.
Yield: 28 cookies.