The Author has noted that I am on a cucina povera kick. Possibly he is noticing more about how I am cooking because he is in the middle of writing a novel about Greece in WWII, which includes details of the famine, but to be honest, I don’t think I’m ever not on a cucina povera kick. I love the simplicity of ingredients and the cleverness necessary to make a good dish out of them. It’s kind of like piecing together a puzzle, but with the difference that you can eat the results.
Aside from that, I have what you might call a mental rolodex of recipes (not all of them thrifty!) that I would like to create or recreate. This is built on dishes I have eaten and loved, recipes I’ve seen and thought looked enticing, or even ingredients that I like and want to use in new ways. Like a real rolodex, the one in my head turns around and around and around, and sometimes, in the never-ending cycle of all these possible recipes, I get distracted from the original intent and get excited by other things – like these cookies.
My initial focus was a buttery cookie that is light and thin and slightly crisp, and I was on the hunt for a recipe that, if not the one, could at least lead me there. But then I saw a recipe in the March issue of Waitrose magazine for cookies that use breadcrumbs as an ingredient, and I was off in a different direction entirely.
Breadcrumbs! One of my favourite ingredients because a) they are free; b) they last forever if you treat them right, which leads to; c) they’re always there when you need them. They’re the food equivalent of a best friend.
In this cookie, the breadcrumbs act as a powerful crunch agent – yes, I just made that expression up, but I’m sticking with it because it’s true. These cookies have a crackle that is surprising given their thinness and laciness. They look more like they might bend, but they don’t, they crunch and melt in your mouth. Now that’s a cookie! And a thrifty cookie at that!
Five out of five people in our household loved them, so I took them round to Anna‘s for a bit of critique. Anna gave them a thumbs-up, as did the three kids who happened to be there, but the happiest customer was Martin – Anna’s husband – whose face lit up when he took a bite and who “oohed” when he was done with his first one. After three more (or four, or five, but who’s counting?) he told me in all earnestness that he’d heard that corporations spend millions of pounds in the search for that crunchiness.
And here I am giving it away for free.
Hansel & Gretel Cookies
Inspired by a recipe from the March issue of Waitrose Kitchen
Makes 30-40 cookies
These cookies are wonderful on their own, but I think they would be quite charming with a bowl of vanilla ice cream, or with some raspberries and whipped cream.
I have lost the original version of the recipe, and I can’t find it online to link to, but it’s fair to say that I used it as my jumping-off point (no plagiarism on this blog!). I changed the almonds in the original recipe to walnuts, and I added more butter and breadcrumbs, 2 different sugars, salt for balance and cinnamon for a nice warm note.
I also simplified the process. If you have a food processor, these will take you minutes to whip up. If you don’t have a food processor, I’ve put instructions at the end.
- 100g walnuts
- 100g toasted breadcrumbs
- 100g flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ¾ tsp cinnamon
- 150g unsalted butter, cut into 2cm pieces
- 60g granulated sugar
- 60g light brown sugar
- ¾ tsp vanilla
Put the walnuts and breadcrumbs in the food processor and whiz until the nuts are ground fine. Add the flour, salt and cinnamon and whiz briefly to combine.
Put the butter pieces, sugars and vanilla into the processor and pulse until everything is thoroughly blended. The dough should be clumpy, not smooth, but make sure you don’t have any chunks of butter.
Tip the dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper and make a log about 6cm (2.5 inches) in diameter. Roll the log up in the parchment and put in the fridge to chill for anywhere from two hours to overnight.
When the dough is quite firm, slice the cookie log crosswise into thin (3-4 mm) pieces, and lay them about 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake at 170C (350F) for about 10-15 minutes, until the edges have slightly browned and the cookies are a little bit firm. Let them rest on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes, then remove them to a rack to continue cooling.
When completely cool, store the cookies in an airtight container. You can keep them at least a week; we (meaning I) ate the last one the 8th day, and I can vouch that they retained their crunch right to the last bite.
To make by hand:
Finely chop the nuts or pound them with a mortar and pestle until they are quite fine. Do the same with the breadcrumbs. Tip them into a large bowl and mix in the flour, salt and cinnamon.
Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, mix in the butter, sugars and vanilla until the mixture is thoroughly blended and there are no visible lumps of butter. Follow the instructions as above for forming and baking.