Inspiration can be found anywhere. In this case, it came from a book. Not a cookbook, but more or less a book about cooking…or baking, really. My cousin works in the book editing world and is always kind enough to ply me with tomes she thinks I might enjoy. She nailed it right on the head with this one. We’ve all read those rags-to-riches stories where people of equal parts bravery and insanity quit their jobs and go on to pursue their passions with great success. This book is kind of like that, only not so one-note.
First of all, the author did not have your average, humdrum, dead-end job. She was a high-profile movie executive in Hollywood. She schmoozed, she dined, she read scripts and wore fancy clothes. But like most of us, she was miserable and longed for a more fulfilling and creative outlet. However, unlike most of us, she’s related to a movie star. Yes, it’s that Bullock. Gesine is Sandra’s little sis. Now I don’t mean to imply that any of Gesine’s success or talent has anything to do with her famous sibling. Sure, it can’t hurt to have that kind of support, but If I learned one thing from this book (besides how to make amazing chocolate macaroon-type cookies) it’s that these women are the best of friends, get along amazingly well, and each stands on her own two feet.
Gesine’s book (it’s pronounced geh-SEEN-eh…with a hard G and an eh like a sigh at the end. She makes that clear throughout her writing. Much like when people call me Katie, she hates it when her name gets butchered. I believe Ja-zeen is the most common mispronunciation) takes a look at a typical day in the bakery she and her husband opened in Vermont after fleeing the Hollywood scene. Each chapter represents a certain hour of that day and details what goes on in the bakery, how they got started, and the way her history and background shaped her new passion. With an American dad from the South and a German opera singer mother, she grew up around a great deal of varying culinary influences. I particularly enjoyed the stories about her German heritage, spending time with her mother, grandmother, and aunts in Germany, and the way food impacted their lives. The stories are full of charming anecdotes, quirky regular customers, sweet memories of her family, and recipes. Oodles of tantalizing recipes. I read normal cookbooks like they’re novels, so to crack open a book that is not only funny and interesting, but also a baking guide is pretty much a dream come true.
Gesine is known for her macaroons. Apparently they got a rave review in InStyle magazine when they first opened their shop, and it didn’t hurt that people had mad the connection to Sandra by that time. Like most master bakers, closet or not, she is reluctant to divulge her winning recipe. Instead she lists a recipe for a close substitute. It’s a rich, densely dark chocolate cookie that definitely exists in the macaroon family. She calls them “Starry Starry Nights” and I couldn’t think of a better moniker for them. They are as dark as chocolate, or a night sky, can be and are rolled in sugar, making them look like that night sky is studded with thousands of sparkling stars.
It’s a relatively simple batter with just a few components — eggs, honey, bittersweet chocolate, butter, almond flour, salt, and cocoa powder. What exactly is almond flour, you might ask? (I certainly had to). It’s really just slivered almonds ground in a food processor until they become a fine powder. However, there’s a trick to winning this nutty game and that’s making sure the almonds don’t process too long and turn into butter. For fear of ending up with a large unnecessary batch of almond butter, I may have under-processed my flour. It was coarser than intended, but that didn’t seem to negatively affect the final outcome.
- The best part of these cookies is their insane chocolatey-ness (the chocolate and butter are melted together over a double boiler creating a smooth, shiny chocolate heaven that gets incorporated into the batter) and the fact that they are TWICE rolled in sugar. They’re quite fun to make too. The batter chills until it is set and can be handled. Gesine recommends using the tiniest scooper available, but I used the one I had which is about an inch wide. After scooping the chocolatey dough balls, I just cut them in half with a butter knife and rolled out smaller balls (let’s see how many times I can say balls in this post. We’ll make it a drinking game). The balls (DRINK!) are rolled in sugar, freeze until hard, then they are rolled in sugar yet again. Because one coating of pure sugar was just not enough. The sugar not only adds a touch of sweetness to the bitter chocolate flavors, it also creates a crunchy, crater-like exterior on each cookie. The cookies sparkle with sugary goodness. I cannot express how delicious these cookies are. They exist somewhere between a truffle and a brownie. The almond flour gives them a subtle nutty aftertaste that you almost can’t identify but know you like it anyway.
While stepping out my door to head to a friend’s dinner party a few weeks ago, I bumped into my downstairs neighbor. He eyed my massive cupcake carrier inquisitively and asked to take a peek inside. He seemed genuinely impressed with the cupcakes (Applesauce Spice with Honey Cinnamon Frosting…I’ll get around to posting those. Never fear!). I felt like Garth in Wayne’s World after he nails his awesome drum solo and then sheepishly says, while sliding his glasses back up his nose, “I like to play.” Because my response to his compliments was “I like to bake.” What came out of this conversation (and the point to which I swear I am getting) is that I often want to bake, but cannot and should not, eat all the things that I bake. So I need people to give them to. Even my friends get a little overwhelmed when I’m constantly showing up with baked goods. Fortunately, my neighbor and his two kids seem more than up to the challenge of consuming my baked goods whenever necessary. Seems like a good deal for everyone.