Last weekend I fulfilled a dream. After years of assuming fresh pasta was always better made by others and eaten in a restaurant, I finally had the opportunity to attend a class run by ludicrously talented Catia who runs Pastalab learning to make -- and eat -- pasta in all shapes and sizes.
Over the course of the day gathering, kneading, resting, rolling and filling the pasta dough and learning new culinary skills, I found myself unexpectedly reminded of some old important lessons. Primarily the importance of rest. Dough needs to rest. It allows the flavours to develop, the gluten to relax and everything soften and prepare iteslf for the next stage of the process.
My first batch pasta dough was tough. I expected to knead silky and supple dough from the outset, but mine was stif. Convinced by Catia not to start again and trust the process, I followed instructions and allowed it to relax tucked under a blanket of cling film. After a short 30 minute rest and a soothing cup of tea, my dough was soft and malleable and rolled into beautiful pasta sheets. And this was my lesson, not just for dough, but for us mortal humans who also hugely benefit from a little quiet time to become more flexible and improve our disposition.
That resting time holds the secret to the complexity of flavour in these buckwheat cacao nib cookies (although they really are more shortbread than cookie). A staple around here, you can find them heart shaped and filled with blackberry jam in February and in the summer they are a favourite ice cream accompaniment. Generally, they are the ideal snack biscuit and gift - light, buttery and delicate.
Like most of Alice Medrich’s recipes, these perfectly crispy edged tender rounds require no adjusting. They are delicate: crisp but melty and not too sweet; they have a wonderful nutty tang thanks to the buckwheat, crunch from the bitter cacao and just the right amount of butter to make them both decadent and moorish. The best part? They take about 4 minutes to prep: measure out and mix the ingredients, gather them into a log (no skill required), roll in parchment and let the dough “rest” in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to slice and bake.
The mixture needs at least a few hours, but preferably overnight in the fridge before slicing and baking to allow the flavours to marinate and develop and the dough to firm. Critically, the rest ensures the biscuits hold their shape when cooked without spreading into a giant hot mess on your baking sheet.
So while these might be the least labour intensive biscuits I make, they don’t tick the instant gratification box of mix, bake, eat. In fact, I think they are best the day after they are made, falling into the very useful “do ahead” treat category of baking and gifting.
Buckwheat Cacao Nib Cookies
By Alice Medrich, from Pure Dessert
Makes approximately 36 cookies
A few notes on the recipe:
The only adaptation I made to Alice’s original recipe is that I prefer these with salted butter. It just helps to bring out all the flavours.
You can easily make double or triple of these and freeze the logs of dough, and just slice and bake as you need them.
If you want to roll these cookies to make them into linzer hearts, do not roll the dough into a log, flatten it into two discs, wrap in cling film and allow to sit in the fridge for at least a few hours before rolling out and cutting into shape. The pastry is very short, so I always chill the cookies again before baking.
I often add an egg to the mixture as it helps to hold their shape, but it is only an option. Without the egg the cookies will spread a little more and be slightly crumblier.
160g (1 ¼ cups) plain flour
85g (¾ cup) buckwheat flour
225g (8oz) room temperature butter, I prefer salted butter
140g (⅔ cup) caster sugar
Pinch of salt (if not using salted butter)
1 large egg (optional)
30g (¼ cup) cacao nibs
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
In a medium sized bowl whisk together the flours and set aside
In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter, the sugar and salt (if using) together until smooth and creamy. Stop before it gets fluffy. Add the egg if using and beat to incorporate.
Mix in the vanilla and cacao nibs
Add the flours and mix until just combined. I like to bring it all together with my hands at the end.
Divide into two halves, and form each piece of dough into a log (approximately 20cm x 5cm) on a piece of parchment and roll the parchment around it, securing the ends like a candy.
Rest in the fridge for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight and up to 2 days or in the freezer for 3 months.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
With a sharp knife cut the dough into rounds, and place spaced apart on the prepared sheets. Each log should give you 10-12 cookies.
Bake for 12-14 minutes until the edges are slightly golden and just beginning to colour.
Cool on baking sheets on a rack, and store in an airtight container for at least 2 weeks if they last that long!