In under two months, my sister will be getting married to a wonderful man. While I am not sure that either of them would agree to being called foodies (simply because the title is so cloying), they both relish exceptionally well-prepared food. For their wedding, my Ace-of-Cakes aunt who has a mini-cupcake operation will be making their “cake” in the form of several amazing cupcakes. The job of constructing the “cookie cake” tower has been passed down to me.
“Huh?” you mutter. “A cookie cake? What is that?” When I tied the knot almost six years ago, I wanted to have something special, familial, and revolving around food, some sort of choose-your-own-tradition that I could incorporate into my wedding. I could not have run across a more perfect embodiment of those things than the Italian Wedding Cookie Cake.
The cookie cake has evolved over several weddings (mine, sister #2, and some cousins) and it goes something like this. Each friend or family member wishing to contribute to the cookie cake prepares a favorite batch of cookies the day before the wedding. For whatever reason, this has tended to be the women in my family–aunts, cousins, sisters, mothers, best friends, and grandmothers. (Men! I’m calling you out!)
They are then carefully mingled and stacked together–tiny thumbprint jam filled trios, chocolate espresso chip cookies, buckwheat-chocolate nib shortbreads, powdered sugar dressed Mexican wedding cookies, mini Snickerdoodles, my Nana’s mistletoe kisses, my recently passed grandmother’s date nut coconut cookies, and tons more. The love and passion that goes into each person’s home-baked cookies makes the tower of sugar, eggs, and butter even more delicious. The guests are invited to gorge themselves and then take a little bag home when they can eat no more.
Well, given that this is my first time as the engineer of the cookie cake, I want to include a few new cookies for my soon-to-be married sister #3. Her fiancée said he loved a vanilla bean macaron I made a few months back so I will definitely make several dozen of those. As for my sister, her perfect cookie has “oatmeal and raisins/currants.” Instead of making a classic, butter-based oatmeal cookie, I decided that I would try to make crunchy, airy classic “cantucci” (what we A-meh-ree-cans call “biscotti,” which just means ‘cookie’ in Italian), but with raisins, oats, and a few other scrumptious, sacrilegious additions.
I have had one or two decent butter-based biscotti, but I have to admit I am generally not a fan of adding any at all. Do not get me wrong, I buy about two pounds of butter each week for baking, homemade bread, or to spread directly onto my thighs. With a butter biscotti, however, you lose the inimitable crunch of a true cantuccio cookie the very next day, no matter how twice or thrice baked you cook them.
While I had my reservations about adding raisins to these cookies–specifically that they would dry out too much–I was delighted to discover that they end up caramelizing and tasting like a surprise ingredient. I am glad I risked it. As for the spicing mix, one could just as easily call these and Indian biscotti since I reached for exclusively my Indian market spices to go with the toasted nuts, oats, and raisins. And I could not resist adding just a bit of whole wheat pastry flour to the dough.
Finally, these are wonderful (and actually healthy), but they taste incredible dipped into not-so-wholesome white chocolate. I would not dip them into milk or dark chocolate simply because it would obscure the warm spice kit and subtle oat flavors of the cookie itself.
As the countdown continues, I will hopefully post more pictures of the new cookie inventions and minimally share pictures of my adventures constructing and transporting the cookie cake in the middle of July. Congratulations you two! You know who you are….
1 cup regular unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon sea salt or ¼ teaspoon kosher
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼-1/2 teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon powdered ginger
¼ teaspoon crushed star anise (or regular, if that is all you have)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon anise extract
1 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped (or walnuts, which my sister would probably prefer)
½ cup raisins
1 beaten egg
2-3 tablespoons Demerara sugar (or whatever you have on hand)
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees and line two baking trays with parchment. Whisk together the dry ingredients (regular flour, whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, salt, and all the dry spices in a small bowl.
In a larger bowl whisk together the 3 eggs and sugar, add the vanilla and anise extracts. With a rubber or wooden spoon stir in the dry ingredients and then the raisins and toasted nuts.
On a lightly floured surface pat half of the dough into a long log, about as long as your baking sheet. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Place the logs on the baking sheets. Whisk the egg for the glaze and then brush liberally over each log. Sprinkle the Demerara sugar on each egg-glazed log and bake in the oven for 25 minutes or so, until it feels firm.
Take out and let cool for 15 minutes. Place each log on a cutting board and slice on the diagonal with a serrated knife, no more than 1/2 inch thick, and place each cookie, cut side down on the parchment. Whereas you might have gotten away with cooking both logs on one cookie sheet, you will need both cookie sheets for this. Cook for 20-30 minutes, turning the sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through cooking.
Let cool, store in an airtight container, and if you like white chocolate, dip the cookies lengthwise in melted white chocolate. Note that, when melting white chocolate, you want a slightly lower temperature than dark chocolate so you do not lose that lovely sheen (tempering). Stir it at about 87F degrees.