Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Walnut Acorn Cookies

I feel that I should have a pumpkin recipe to post today for Halloween. Unfortunately, I have been busy with other things and didn't have any reason this year to make special Halloween treats. In any case, the day is now almost over. But if at this late hour of All Hallows' Eve you are still looking for something festive to make, there are several past posts that will fill the bill—Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars, Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting...or maybe a late night supper of Pumpkin Pancakes.

One of the things I have been working on for the past week or so is my upcoming Christmas cookie class. I have taught the same holiday cookie class for several years now and decided this summer that I should come up with a version 2.0. I planned to start testing cookies right away. Not surprisingly, other more pressing things kept coming up and I never got around to it. So here I am, about six weeks away from my class, testing away.

One of the cookies I will be teaching is something called a Walnut Acorn Cookie. It is a fiddly, festive looking cookie, made with nuts and chocolate—perfect for the Christmas cookie platter. But it also has a nice autumnal look to it...making it perfect for now.

I found the recipe for these cookies several years ago in a Christmas issue of Gourmet. Next to the recipe, there was a beguiling picture of a beautiful molded cookie that looked just like an acorn. I have had many years practice at mixing, forming and baking cookies and am willing to admit that I have some skill at it. So I was disappointed when mine didn't look like the picture. They spread more than I had expected and were somehow less refined than the image in the magazine. But they tasted very good. So I made some notes and decided I would return to them another year.

Several years later this particular cookie showed up in The Gourmet Cookie Book—a catalog of the single best cookie from every year Gourmet magazine was published. The Walnut Acorn Cookies made the cut for the year 2000. I felt much better when I saw that the cookie pictured in the book had spread even more than mine had. (I am mystified by the picture in the original issue.) Obviously I wasn't the only one who thought this cookie tasted pretty great.

The recipe I'm posting today is my amended version of this cookie. My changes mostly involve method: I brown the butter instead of just melting it. And I have borrowed a trick from Rose Beranbaum's Christmas Cookie Book for making a nut based cookie dough in the food processor by first grinding the nuts with the sugar and then processing in the butter (rather than creaming the sugar and butter and folding in the separately ground nuts with the flour). However, the most significant change I made was to omit the baking powder. It seemed out of place when I compared this cookie to the other molded Christmas cookies in my repertoire—and it seemed to me that it might be the source of the excessive spread.

I like my "new" version of this cookie very much. It has been so long since I made the original that I don't really know how the two compare. My version is very tender and has the added nuttiness of the browned butter, accentuated by a little extra salt. The texture is quite sandy—so much so that they could more appropriately be called Walnut Acorn Sablés. But no matter what you call them, I think they will make a beautiful and unusual addition to any cookie platter you might make during the holiday season to come.

Walnut Acorn Cookies

2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter
1 t. vanilla
4 oz. (1 cup) walnuts, lightly toasted
1/4 c. light brown sugar (50 grams)
1/2 c. granulated sugar (100 grams)
1/2 t. salt
2 c. (8 oz.) all-purpose flour

2 oz. (1/2 cup) walnuts, toasted and very finely chopped
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Melt the butter in a small, wide sauté pan set over medium heat. As the butter begins to sputter and pop, whisk occasionally. The butter solids will begin to turn brown. When the solids are golden brown and the butter has a pleasantly nutty aroma, transfer the butter to a heat proof container, or dip the bottom of the pan into a large bowl (or use the kitchen sink) of cool water to stop the cooking process. Set the butter aside and allow it to cool, stirring occasionally. When the butter has cooled, stir in the vanilla. Before proceeding with the recipe the butter should have cooled until it is opaque and thickened...but still liquid. If it solidifies, warm slightly.

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the walnuts and the sugar until the walnuts are ground very finely.

Pour in the butter—scraping the pan well.  Process to combine.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the flour and salt. Pulse until the flour is incorporated and the dough is clumpy.

Transfer the clumps of dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and, using the plastic wrap, press into a thick disc. Wrap and refrigerate until firm—an hour or two.

Divide the dough into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 section at a time, and keeping the remainder of the dough refrigerated if the room is very warm, knead the dough between lightly floured hands until malleable. Roll the dough into a 10-inch sausage.

Cut into 10 1-inch segments.

Roll the segments into uniform balls.  To form an acorn, place a ball on a teaspoon and using your thumb and index finger, shape the dough into an oval with a rounded point at the tip of the spoon. There should be a ridge formed by your thumb and index finger down the center of the rounded triangle of dough.

Carefully remove the formed cookie from the spoon and place on a parchment lined sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough, spacing the formed cookies about an inch apart.

Bake the cookies for 14 to 16 minutes in a 325° oven until set and golden around the edges. Cool the cookies on the sheet for 10 minutes. Finish cooling on wire racks.

When the cookies are completely cool, melt the chocolate. Dip the wider end of the cookie in the chocolate and then in the finely ground walnuts. Place the decorated cookies on parchment lined sheets to allow the chocolate to set.

Store in an air tight container. Makes 5 dozen cookies.

(Recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine, December 2000)

Printable Recipe


Paige said...

Chris, I would LOVE to see you at the class!

Rachel said...

I am back here every year making these cookies. Is it okay to keep dough in the fridge a couple days if I want to make ahead of time?

Paige said...

Hi Rachel,

For some reason I am just now seeing this comment. I do apologize for not answering. I'm sure you figured out the answer...but is fine to keep it in the fridge a few days (you can even freeze it). It will actually last quite a while because there is no egg...and the dairy has basically been cooked out of the butter.