Sweet Treats for Sweet Holiday Memories (Part Two of Three)

By Orysia McCabe, Epoch Times
November 26, 2015 3:42 pm Last Updated: November 27, 2015 10:16 am

As I looked through “Payard Cookies” trying to decide what recipes to offer in this week’s installment, I came across some very helpful hints in the introductory sections, like the Notes on Baking. 

For example, did you know that the way ovens heat varies widely? And not only from one oven to another, but even from the left to the right sides, and from the front to the back—that’s why baking times are given in ranges. There are other helpful hints in this section on keeping your cookie yields consistent, freezing your dough, and dipping and glazing cookies. 

In the Equipment section some great advice is offered about the use of silicone products such as molds and baking mats (to make cleanup a whole lot easier and faster). There’s even a special request from chef François Payard about getting a kitchen scale for baking—though he’s ensured his recipes offer ingredient measurements by both volume (in cups) and by weight (in grams), in case you don’t want to get one. There is also an excellent section on piping cookie dough, something I am still trying to perfect myself. 

The section on Ingredients covers topics like butter, almond flour, candied citrus peel, and an extensive section on chocolate—everything from how to temper chocolate (as Payard wrote in the book, “Tempering is what gives chocolate its snap when you bite into it.”) to how the percentage of cacao affects the recipe.

Payard has organized the chapters by cookie type, such as Dipped & Filled Cookies, Financiers & Tea Cakes, and Minis & Mignardises. As Payard explains in the preamble about minis, “‘Mignon’ means cute in French, and ‘mignardises’ are cute, tiny treats that come in addition to dessert … [They invite] some more lingering at the table, so that conversations and good times don’t have to end just yet.”

This week I chose to test two recipes: Calissons d’Aix and Almond-Vanilla Financiers.

Testing the Recipes

I first tested out the recipe for the Calissons d’Aix, diamond-shaped treats made of almonds, candied orange peel, and apricot jam. The reason I chose this recipe is because it doesn’t require baking. This recipe is a winner. When I offered these morsels, every single person had nothing but positive things to say. “These are marvelous in every way!” one said. Another, whose favorite type of treat has citrus, said she thought the orange cut through the calissons’ sweetness nicely. She also liked the crunch from the crystalized sugar. That there is no baking and only four ingredients are big bonuses. 

The next recipe I tried was for the Almond-Vanilla Financiers. The recipe made 45 mini-tea cakes. And while I usually have colleagues or friends try out the sweets first, this time to my great delight I was the first tester. The kitchen smelled so good as they baked I just couldn’t resist. 

The mini cakes were rich, light, sweet, little puffs of air. The almond flavor was there but not overpowering, and a richness came from the butter, but not so much so that they were heavy. It was a good thing I had other things to do because I could have sat there for some time just popping one after another, since they are small. Friends and colleagues offered their comments, including “aromatic, chewy, and the perfect size,” and they delighted in the “bouncy, squishy” texture. More commonly, people who tried them said they were delicious, adding they’d be great with coffee.

One of the main reasons I chose this recipe from among so many was that no special equipment was required—no food processor or stand mixer. Twenty minutes in the oven and they were done. They would make a great delicacy for a cookie exchange. Since the recipe makes so many, you could whip up a batch and have enough to share and keep some at home to enjoy.

I will definitely be making these often. In fact my water just boiled for tea, so I think I’ll just go have another. 

Happy baking.

“Payard Cookies” by François Payard (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, $30)