Petits fours demi-sec are cookies, but they’re not quite dry. For example, madeleines are moist cookies and macarons are filled cookies.
Madeleine plaques come in two formats: tinned steel or silicone. The advantage of silicone is it’s nonstick and flexible, so you can just peel it off the cookies. The madeleines tend to stick to the metal pans unless you butter the pan ruthlessly. However, it’s better to bake madeleines in metal pans, not silicone, because you want the crust to be a little crisp and the crumb to be soft and melt in your mouth. If you use silicone, they’re just soft throughout, like cupcakes.
Macarons are French cookies that are especially trendy now. The cookie itself is meringue with almond flour folded in, piped in small rounds onto a baking sheet, and baked until they’re just set on the outside. These days they’re sandwich cookies, but originally they were just the one layer. They were purportedly invented by Catherine de’ Medici’s pastry chef, although naturally the exact origins are a little hazy. The two-layer sandwich became popular in the early 19th century, and the macaron as we know it was invented by Ladurée. The filling should have a stiff texture: It should not be runny, but it should not be hard. Ganache is usually good, and buttercream is good.
Financiers are little cakes that represent gold bars. They’re little sponge cakes made with almond flour and brown butter, which is butter that’s cooked until the milk solids turn dark and precipitates and the butter smells nutty.
In this class we also baked some of the dough we made in the previous petits fours sec class. By the time we were finished, we had a lot of cookies.
Pain turk (Turkish bread) are sliced almond cookies with a chocolate border. You form the almond dough into a block and sandwich that between layers of chocolate dough.
When you slice the dough into cookies, they have a chocolate border.
We also finished our checkerboard cookies, which we had started the night before. These sliced cookies have to be good and cold when you work with them. Checkerboard cookies are two kinds of dough, vanilla and chocolate, that are sliced into strips, stacked, sliced again, and stacked again so the flavors alternate in the checkerboard pattern.
Then you wrap the checkerboard block in a layer of cookie dough, either chocolate or vanilla; we used chocolate.
Then you slice the dough and bake the cookies.
I was keen to make the madeleines because I’m in a Proust reading group at the Boston Athenaeum. The cookies are shaped like scallop shells, and the ones everyone is familiar with are elongated. However, we also had a plaque that looked more like real scallop shells, and we had plaques that made tiny cookies, so we made some of each.
The scallop shell is a symbol of St. Jacques (St. James) and of pilgrimage. When Proust tastes the madeleine dipped in linden-blossom (also called lime-blossom) tea, he begins his pilgrimage in search of lost time.
Financiers are little tea cakes baked in pans shaped like gold bricks. Traditionally they’re decorated with fruit and swerved with ice cream.
We also made several kinds of macarons. The white ones are decorated with coconut and filled with banana.
If the batter is good and stiff and you let the piped batter sit for half an hour before you bake it, it forms a little crust that keeps the cookies from cracking (undesirable) and forms a foot as it bakes (desirable). These look the way they’re supposed to.
Finally, we arranged our cookies on plates for their close-ups.