When tender vegetation succumbs to killing frosts, it's the trees that lend interest to the winter landscape. And after the bounty of summer fades into fond memories, the trees grace our holiday tables with good things to eat.
Trees are so ubiquitous that it's easy to take them for granted, but just try to imagine life without them. Our houses would have a different character and our hearths would be cold. Cooking, as we know it, would have deviated from its path and taken the course of history and the progress of man along with it.
But trees are more than wood— they enrich our catalog of flavor. Without the things we harvest from trees there would be no sweet reduced sap to pour over our pancakes. Chewing gum may have never been invented. We would not know the comfort of apple pie or the aroma of a ripe peach. Our pantries would be destitute of sweet, oily nuts and our spice racks would lack the warmth of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and sweet bay. Winter, the bleakest season, would be unbearable without the spark of citrus.
So while we rejoice in our holiday hams and roasts and vegetables and grains, and all of the splendid things from pastures and fields, let us not forget to consider the trees and celebrate their bounty.
These no-bake cookies are redolent of chocolate, chestnut, and bourbon. Bittersweet and boozy, they are decidedly adult treats. They were inspired by faux bois cement sculptures from the 19th century. Easy to make with these whimsical cookie cutters, they can alternately be made by cutting the dough freehand (or with a template) into branch shapes and pressing the surface with the tine of a fork to resemble bark. Make the dough well in advance to allow the flavors to mellow.
bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped 4 oz 113g
cocoa powder 3 Tblsp 11g
chestnut flour 3/8 cup 170g
egg white 1 large 40g
superfine sugar 2 Tblsp 26g
unsalted butter, softened 3.5 Tblsp 48g
bourbon 1.5 Tblsp 12g
Pulse the chocolate, cocoa powder, and chestnut flour in a food processor until the chocolate is the texture of sand.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the egg white with the whisk attachment until it forms soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar while continuing to whip until stiff peaks form. Add the bourbon and whisk to incorporate. Remove the whisk and attach the paddle. Sprinkle the chocolate mixture over the meringue and beat on low for 1 minute. Add the soft butter to the crumbly mixture in the bowl and beat on low for 1-2 minutes, until a malleable dough forms. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and age in the refrigerator for at least 2 days and up to 1 week.
Roll out the dough to 1cm/3/8” thickness. Cut out branch shapes and press woodgrain into top. Set out on a rack to dry for a few hours.
Makes about 1 dozen cookies.
The base of these cookies are sables flavored with spruce-infused sugar. The best flavor comes from the tender young tips that appear in spring— winter tips have a woodier flavor that is best extracted by pulverizing in sugar.
The spruce sugar is used again in the icing to anchor the woodgrained chocolate veneers.
sugar 1 cup 200g
spruce tips .28 oz 8g
unsalted butter, softened 1 stick 114g
flour 1 1/2 cups 190g
salt 1/8 tsp .84g
Place the sugar and spruce tips in a blender and blend on high speed for 2-3 minutes until sugar is pulverized. Let stand 5 minutes and blend again for 1 minute. Sift the sugar through a medium sieve to remove spruce chaff. Sift again through a fine sieve to remove small particles. Measure out 1/2 cup/80g of spruce sugar and place in a mixing bowl. Reserve the remaining sugar for icing.
Add the butter and salt to the sugar in the bowl and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes until creamy. Gradually add the flour while beating on low speed until it is absorbed. Transfer dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, wrap tightly and chill for at least 2 hours.
Roll out dough into a large rectangle 1/4"/6mm thick. Using a straight edge and a pastry wheel, cut dough into eighteen 1 1/2" x 2 1/2"/4cm x 6.5cm rectangles. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake in a preheated 350F/176C oven for 8 mins, or until cookies are baked through but still pale in color. Let cool.
dark chocolate, melted 3 oz 85g
white chocolate, melted 4 oz 113.5g
milk chocolate, melted 2 oz 56.5g
Drop about 1 Tablespoon of dark chocolate on a sheet of acetate and spread thinly into a 3"/7.5cm band with an offset spatula. Place a woodgraining tool at the top of the band and slowly drag it through the chocolate while rocking it back and forth. Transfer the acetate onto a baking sheet and refrigerate until chocolate hardens. Blend the white chocolate with the milk chocolate until uniform in color. Remove the acetate from the refrigerator and let temper at room temperature for a few minutes. Spoon some of the white/milk chocolate mixture over the dark chocolate and spread evenly in a thin layer until woodgrain is completely covered. Return to refrigerator until hardened. Carefully peel woodgrained bands from acetate and set aside. Repeat 4 more times until you have completed 5 bands.
Cut the bands into 18 rectangles that are slightly smaller than the cookies using a straight edge and a knife that has been heated over a flame or in hot water.
reserved spruce sugar 6 Tblsps 60g
unsalted butter, softened 4 tsps 21g
milk 1 Tblsp 18g
Cream the butter with the sugar, then blend in the milk.
To finish cookies: Spread a thin layer of icing on the center of each cookie. Top with a chocolate veneer, pressing gently to adhere.
Makes 18 cookies.
These cookies are made with 3 distinct batches of dough, flavored with products from 4 trees: acorn meal from White Oak (Quercus alba), maple sugar and syrup from Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), mesquite flour from bean pods of the Mesquite tree (Prosopis), and ground pecans from the Pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis). Maple products and pecans are widely available, acorn meal can be found online or in Korean markets, and mesquite flour is found in health food shops.
flour 2 cups 252g
acorn meal 1/2 cup 66g
baking soda 1/2 tsp 2.5g
salt 1/8 tsp .84g
unsalted butter, softened 1 1/2 sticks 170g
sugar 2/3 cup 120g
egg 1 large 50g
flour 2 1/2 cups 338g
baking soda 1/2 tsp 2.5g
salt 1/8 tsp .84g
unsalted butter, softened 1 1/2 sticks 170g
maple sugar 2/3 cup 120g
egg 1 large 50g
flour 3/4 cups 100g
mesquite flour 1/2 cup 70g
baking soda 1/4 tsp 1.25g
salt pinch pinch
unsalted butter, softened 3/4 stick 85g
dark brown sugar 1/3 cup 52g
egg yolk 1 large 18g
finely chopped or ground pecans: 1 cup 90g
egg wash: 1 egg, lightly beaten
For each of the 3 doughs: In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Beat the butter with the sugar in a mixer bowl with the paddle attachment for 2 minutes on medium speed until light and creamy. Add the egg and continue beating until incorporated. Turn the speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredients in large spoonfuls until it is all absorbed and a malleable dough forms. For the Mesquite dough, stop beating while mixture is still crumbly. Tranfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Wrap the Oak and Maple doughs tightly in plastic. Chill all 3 doughs for at least 2 hours.
To form cookies: Cut off 1/4 of the Maple dough and roll into a cylinder that is 3/4"/2cm diameter x 6" /15.5cm long. Cut off slightly less than 1/3 of the Oak dough and roll out into a rectangle that is roughly 6" x 5" x 3/8" thick (1.5cm x 13cm x 1cm). Transfer dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and trim one of the long edges so that it is straight. Brush the surface of the dough with the egg wash (glue) and place Maple cylinder along the straight edge. Using the plastic wrap to guide the dough evenly, roll the Oak dough around the Maple cylinder, pressing firmly, until it is completely wrapped, then trim the edge where they meet. The dough will crack as it bends, this is to be expected. Lay the flat of your palms on the center of the log and roll back and forth, exerting even pressure, moving hands slowly from the center of the log to the edges, until the outer layer of dough is smooth and the log has grown about 1"/2.5cm in length, and decreased slightly in diameter. Repeat the wrapping and rolling of each layer with remaining dough, alternating between the Maple and the Oak, and eggwashing between each, until the log is comprised of 6 layers and measures about 8"/20.5cm in length and about 2 1/2"/6.5cm in diameter.
Scatter the crumbly Mesquite dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and pat into an 8" x 6"/20.5cm x 15.5cm rectangle. Brush the surface with eggwash and place the log along one of the long edges. Use the plastic wrap to completely encase the log with the Mesquite dough, pressing firmly to adhere, then repeat the rolling motion to form a compact log. Scatter the ground pecans on work surface and roll the log over them to irregularly coat the surface. Trim the ends of the log, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours until firm.
To bake cookies: Slice the log 3/8"/1cm thick, rolling the log between slices to help it maintain its shape. Lay the slices out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 F/176C oven for 8-10 minutes.
Makes about 30 cookies.
The dough for these stacked cookie sandwiches is fragrant with orange zest and spices that are harvested from different parts of trees: cinnamon (the inner bark of Cinnamomum verum), star anise (the fruit of Illicium verum), nutmeg (the seed of Myristica fragrans), cloves (the dried flower buds of Syzygium aromaticum), and allspice (the dried unripe fruit of Pimenta dioica).
The buttercream filling is flavored with frankincense, the dried tree sap from Boswellia sacra. Frankincense can be found in Middle Eastern markets or online— look for milky white tears, free of debris.
flour 3 cups 405g
baking powder 1/2 tsp 2.5g
salt 1/2 tsp 3.2g
ground cinnamon 1 1/2 tsp 4.5g
ground star anise 1 tsp 3g
ground nutmeg 1 tsp 3g
ground cloves 1/2 tsp 1.5g
ground allspice 1/2 tsp 1.5g
unsalted butter, softened 11 oz 312g
sugar 1/2 cup 95g
muscavado sugar 1/2 cup 83g
egg 1 large 50g
microplaned orange zest 2 tsp 5g
water 1/2 cup 120g
frankincense tears 1 1/2 Tblsp 17g
sugar 1/2 cup 100g
egg whites 3 large 90g
cream of tartar 1/4 tsp .80g
unsalted butter, room temp 1/2 lb 226g
lemon juice 1 tsp 15g
24 karat gold leaf (optional)
To make cookies: In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients with the spices. Beat the butter with the sugar in a mixer bowl with the paddle attachment for 2 minutes on medium speed until light and creamy. Add the egg and orange zest and continue beating until incorporated. Turn the speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredients in large spoonfuls until it is all absorbed and a malleable dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours.
Roll the dough out to 1/4"/6mm thickness. With a set of 11 round cutters that graduate in size from 3/4"/2cm to 3 5/8"/9.25cm, cut 22 rounds by using each cutter twice. Place the cookie rounds on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake in a preheated 350F/176C oven for 6-8 minutes for the smaller cookies and 8-10 minutes for the larger ones. Allow to cool.
To make the frosting: place the water and frankincense tears in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover pan and set aside for 10 minutes to infuse. Strain through a fine sieve. Rinse saucepan and return 1/4 cup/65g of the strained frankincense water to it. Pour the sugar into the center of the pan, stir gently to wet the sugar and set over medium-high heat. When sugar melts and syrup begins to reach 200F/ 93C, turn the heat to lowest setting.
In an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks begin to form. Turn the mixer speed to low, return to the syrup and turn the heat up to high. Bring the syrup to 248F/120C (firm-ball stage) and immediately remove from heat. With the mixer still on low, slowly pour about 1/2 of the hot syrup down the side of the mixing bowl directly into the egg whites but avoiding the whisk. Turn mixer to high and beat for 30 seconds. Return mixer speed to low and slowly add the remaining syrup to the meringue in the same manner. Turn the speed back to high and beat for 2 minutes. Allow the meringue to cool completely before proceeding.
When meringue has cooled, add the butter, 1 Tblsp at a time, while beating on medium speed. If at any time it appears to have seperated, turn the speed to high and beat until it becomes creamy again. When al of the butter is incorporated, turn the mixer to low and beat in the lemon juice. Scrape buttercream into a pastry bag fitted with a #12 (7mm) round tip.
To finish tree: Line up the cookie rounds into 11 pairs and pipe the buttercream onto the bottom rounds all the way to the edges. Lightly press the top rounds onto the buttercream to form 11 cookie sandwiches. Stack the cookies on serving plate, starting with the largest and graduating to smallest, using a small dot of buttercream between each cookie to hold them together. If using gold leaf, press the tip of a small, damp brush on a corner of a leaf and pull to tear randomly. With the piece of gold leaf still attached to the tip of brush, transfer to cookie tree, pressing on a section of exposed buttercream to adhere. Continue until desired effect is achieved.