Monday, March 13, 2006

Q Cookies

There are recipes everyone loves, and there are recipes that loved by only a few. This may be the latter. You’ll have to judge for yourself.

My dad’s mother – my "Me-ma" – came over from Italy in the first half of the 20th century. She was a fabulous cook; Sunday dinners were always replete with spaghetti and meatballs, ravioli, sweet peppers in olive oil, and scores of other things I was too young to take in.

The problem with this was that when her family wanted her recipes, she couldn’t supply them. Me-ma did her cooking from memory, sight and taste: a little of this, a handful of that, more water, less flour. There weren’t precise measurements, there was just Italian culinary magic.

Which is why her children and grandchildren now get so excited when they are able to recreate one of her dishes. My father is the front-runner – he’s able to make her sauce, her holiday soup (known more commonly as “Italian Wedding Soup”), her zeppolis.

But no one had her “Q cookie” recipe. Q cookies are crunchy, dry, lightly sweetened biscuits Me-ma would make by the hundreds. Her house in Astoria, Queens always had a stock-pot-cum-cookie-jar filled with them. I ate scores of cookies, washing them down with large glasses of cold milk. (I’m told, incidentally, that I named these Q-cookies when I was very young. One of the shapes Me-ma made was a circle with small cuts in it, which would make parts of the dough flare out during baking. The tail on the letter “Q” spikes out similarly. )

I thought it was only to remain a memory until I took an Italian Cooking course at ICE where I made a Crostate di Mele alla Romana – sort of an apple tart. The crust, called a pasta frolla, was a dead ringer for Me-ma’s cookies.

I didn’t care for the Crostata, but I was thrilled to find the pasta frolla recipe. I adapted the recipe to bring it closer to Me-ma’s, and had my dad taste the results.

The recipe yielded about 30 3-inch cookies but what’s pictured above is all that’s left – they passed the test.

Q Cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
3 large eggs, plus an additional egg for the egg wash

Mix together the dry ingredients in a food processor or stand mixer. Add the butter and pulse/mix until finely mixed in. Add the eggs and continue to pulse/mix until the dough forms a ball. Wrap and chill until ready to use. (I skipped this step and didn’t have a problem.)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper. On a clean, flat work surface, roll out the dough into desired shapes, making sure cookies are of a similar size and thickness. (This is a great project for kids – it’s a bit like working with Play-doh.) After placing on the cookie sheet, brush each cookie with the egg wash (a well-beaten egg mixed with a splash of water). Space the cookies about 1-inch apart.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes, and brush again with the egg wash. Bake until the cookies are golden brown, an additional 8 to 13 minutes.

Allow to cool and store in an airtight container. Enjoy with a large mug of coffee or a tall glass of milk. Dunking is encouraged.

Grade: A+, but I'm terribly biased.

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