Young and Hungry

Michel Richard Cookies for the Holidays: Not Good Enough?

My friend Lou is a terrific home cook, particularly with desserts. Get a load of his red-wine poached pears—the treat that was almost too gorgeous to eat. (Almost.) As you can see from that one example, Lou doesn't take shortcuts, even when it comes to a cookie-baking contest for a holiday office party. The dude really wants to win.

Lou e-mailed me yesterday, saying that it "might be an interesting column" if I'd ask "big shot chefs/pastry chefs in town to divulge or come up with their great Christmas cookie recipe." Little did I know that Lou was working me for his own ends. I found that out this morning when I called him on the way to work, informing him that the Post had just devoted its Food Section to holiday cookies. None of the paper's recipes, he thought, would win him the office-party bake-off.

He wanted something more fanciful. He wanted something more elaborate. He wanted something from Michel Richard. I reluctantly agreed to contact the city's master chef for a recipe. By day's end, Richard's PR coordinator Mel Davis e-mailed me a couple of cookie recipes (you can see them below the jump). I forward the recipes to Lou for review. His response:

They "look like fantastic cookies but they’re just cookies. I need something that’s gonna wow ‘em. Any thoughts on what I could fill them with (a la sandwich cookies) that’s holidayish?"

Tough crowd.

Michel Richard's Pistachio Lace Cookies

Makes about 8 dozen

3 ounces (¾ stick) unsalted butter

1 ¼ cups shelled pistachios

7/8 cup (¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/3 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

For the cookie dough, melt the butter and cool until tepid or barely warm to the touch, for about 40 minutes.

Grind the pistachios and sugar in a food processor, pulsing on/off until the nuts are coarsely chopped, or chop the nuts by hand and mix them with the sugar. Blend the flour and the pistachio/sugar mixture using an electric mixer. Add the tepid butter, orange juice and Grand Marnier and mix just until evenly moistened. The dough will be wet and sticky, spread the dough out into a 1-inch-wide log on a sheet of plastic wrap. Using the wrap as an aid, roll the dough up in plastic. Refrigerate or freeze until firm, for about 6 hours. (This can be prepared ahead and refrigerated 1 week or wrapped in freezer paper and frozen several months. Defrost in the refrigerator before continuing with the recipe.)

To bake, preheat the oven to 325°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the dough into 1/8-inch-thick coins. Arrange as many as will fit on the prepared sheets, leaving 2 inches between the cookies. Dip a fork in water, shake dry and use it to flatten the cookies. Bake the cookies until well browned, for about 12 minutes, exchanging the position of the baking sheets in the oven halfway. Let the cookies cool on parchment until firm enough to dislodge with a spatula, for about 5 minutes. Gently transfer to racks in a single layer. Arrange and bake the remaining coins in the same manner. Cool the cookies completely on racks. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Michel Richard's Ginger Graham Cookies

Makes: 2 dozens

¼ cups crushed graham crackers (about 10 whole store-bought grahams) or graham cracker crumbs

½ cup almond meal or very finely ground almonds

¼ cup hazelnut meal or very finely ground hazelnuts

3 tablespoons finely ground pistachios

11 tablespoons (5 ½ ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon powdered ginger

½ teaspoon cinnamon

In a medium bowl, combine the crushed grahams, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, cinnamon and ginger.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 3 to 5 minutes, scraping the bowl as necessary, until well combined and lightened in texture. Mix the egg until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the graham cracker mixture.

The dough will be stick and somewhat soft. If it is too difficult to work with, chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour to firm.

To form the dough into a log: Slightly dampen the work surface, to anchor the plastic, and lay out two overlapping pieces of plastic wrap to form an 18-inch square. The size of the log of dough can vary depending on the size cookie you want to make. If the cookies will be used as a base from the cheesecakes, the log of dough should be about the same diameter as the tops of the ramekins. Place the dough about 6 inches up from the bottom edge of the plastic wrap and mold it into a log about 7 inches long. Pull the plastic wrap up over the log and press it down on the far side of the log, being careful not to catch the plastic wrap in the dough. Using a ruler or the blade of a chef's knife, push the dough toward you from the far side of the log to seal the plastic and straighten the roll. Slowly roll the dough up in the plastic wrap, pinching in from the sides as you roll to compact the dough. The finished roll should be about 5 to 6 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. Twist both ends of the roll and tie with kitchen twine. Trim the ends of the plastic wrap.

Refrigerate, standing on one ends, until firm, for several hours, or preferably overnight. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 1 month.)

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or Silpats.

Remove the plastic wrap from the dough and cut in ¼-inch-thick rounds. Place on the baking sheets (the cookies will spread, so place only 6 on each sheet) and bake for about 12 minutes, or until crisp and golden.

Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Bake the remaining cookies. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Image by Flickr user Jef Poskanzer