Saturday, April 7, 2012

Of Ginger and Lemon and Cream (Cheese) - Part The Third

They say you can learn more from your failures than you can from your successes. If that's true, then what about your near misses? Your qualified successes? What did I learn from my first attempts at my ginger-lemon creams? I learned that I needed some new tools, a refined technique and a couple of different ingredients to make them the cookies I so desired. And that I needed to figure out the cool factor pretty darned quickly because my next test batch wasn't far off. I was so close I could almost taste it. Literally.

Taste was part of the problem to be solved. I needed to ramp up the lemon flavor and I didn't relish having to zest any more lemons because I hate zesting! I'm sure that's just because I don't have the best tool for the job or the right technique or the best lemons or...or.... Whatever! Even I don't have the kind of patience it would take to produce enough zest to see me through another test of this recipe, let alone using it on a regular basis. Just as I was getting the brain up to speed to work on this problem, brilliantly resourceful Michele (a tremendous cook in her own right) dropped this in my hand:

Kalustyan's is a specialty food store on Lexington Avenue at 28th Street and it's amazing. When you walk in your nose transports you to places East. Intense aromas build up, layer upon layer as you travel deeper and deeper into the store. You can smell the potential delicious meals with each step. How anyone gets out of there without drooling on themselves I don't know. Me? I carry a tactical sleeve. Just in case. Michele was shopping there after work one evening and found the lemon peel powder. Having heard my rassen-frassen-bricken-bracken about zesting, she thought it would be a good solution. It was, even though lemon peel powder doesn't pack quite the same punch as lemon zest. Using it would certainly save bunches of lemons from my little grater, and save my sanity as well. And it would work for both the cookies and the filling.

Speaking of the filling (which I was -- you can check the above paragraph if you don't believe me), I came to the conclusion that it needed two things: to be less stiff and to have a bit of zing to it that lemon zest or lemon peel powder couldn't give it. The former was easy enough to rectify. I'd just add less corn starch. Much less corn starch. The answer to the latter wasn't as forthcoming. Michele and I talked about lemon reductions and such, but, like zesting, that wouldn't lend itself to easily making this recipe on a semi-frequent basis.

And then it hit me like a tangy bolt from the blue! Sour Brite Crawlers! No, not the candy itself but the ingredient that gives my favorite gummi of all time its bite: citric acid. A little of that would make the filling perfect! I didn't find it at Kalustyan's, or any of the local stores I thought might have it. Granted, I was in kind of a hurry so I didn't have the time to do a spice shop crawl. Quick! To the Interwebs and my trusted on-line spice purveyor, My Spice Sage! I discovered this great site a couple of years ago when I was looking for hot salt -- but that's a story for another time. Sure enough, they had said citric acid and I was well on my way to my next test!

Now, here's were some of that "learning" I mentioned above comes into play. My previous attempts taught me how to alter my rolling technique to get a more uniform thickness for each cookie. They taught me how to cut and lift each round from the marble slab so that the they deformed as little as possible because, as it turns out, I wanted a particular visual uniformity that would be part of the cool factor. I'd also learned how to gauge my poor oven's shortcomings.

A word about our oven: a little not well. (I know that's more than a word but I'm a good tipper.) The oven itself isn't old. In fact, it's the most modern oven I've ever had in a New York apartment. It's just that the preheat thermostat thingy has been lying to us of late. It beeps to tell us the oven's ready when it's really anywhere from 15 - 50 degrees away from ready. Talk about a temperature swing! How does one use an oven that lies like that and have any hope of success? By purchasing a good oven thermometer and giving the oven a lot of time to preheat. What I discovered is that it heats up accurately; I just have to let it do its "Little Oven That Could" thing. And, yes, I'll eventually get the super to have someone take a look at it.

After deciding how much lemon peel powder to add to the cookie dough, how much citric acid and peel powder to add (and how much corn starch not to add) to the filling, I embarked on the next test. The result was a cookie that was a half a light year beyond that one that preceded it. The citric acid added the lemony zing I was looking for in the cream filling and the cookies themselves were snappy enough without drifting into jaw-breaker territory. I pleased indeed!

But there was still something missing. My taste buds informed me that they were on the verge of the very experience they'd been seeking. However, as good as this batch was, it  still came up short. And I still needed to figure out the visual cool factor. Drat! I still had work to do.

End Part The Third



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