Monday, January 30, 2012

Bow Ties's not so great to come across a recipe like this when I'm almost at the end of the book. But here we are, one cookie recipe from the end, with a clunker like these Bow Ties.

 Why am I so down on these cookies? Well, here's Exhibit A: the ammonium carbonate (Hirschhornsalz) that I had to import at great expense from Germany (thank you, Amazon!). It made everything smell terrible--a public restroom is probably the best metaphor--and the off taste never went away, to my mind. At the same time, maybe the failure is all my fault: Maida wanted me to treat this just like baking powder, adding with the dry ingredients, but the package told me I should dissolve the carbonate in water, which I did. That might have contributed to the texture, which was not "airy, crisp...especially light", as Maida promises.

 Another factor that made me (rightfully) suspicious: oil instead of butter. This is perhaps in the interest of making the recipe kosher, since Maida says these were a speciality of Jewish bakeries. But I don't like the texture of oil-based baked goods. And the anise: normally I like it, but here it was awfully strong. Whine, whine.

Anyway, here's the recipe. If you happen to have some ammonium carbonate in the house (according to Wikipedia, you can also use it as smelling salts if anyone's feeling faint), give it a try--you may be luckier than I.

Bow Ties

1 t. anise seeds
2-1/2 c. (10 oz.) sifted flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. powdered ammonium carbonate
2 T. sugar (plus extra for rolling the dough in)
4-5 large eggs
1/2 c. (4 oz.) tasteless oil (grape seed, canola)
1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. almond extract

Use a mortar and pestle or a spice/coffee grinder to grind the anise seeds. Whisk them together with the flour, salt, ammonium carbonate, and sugar and set aside.

 Break 3-4 eggs into a glass measuring cup and see how much you have. Separate another egg and add the yolk. If you need to, top up with some of the white. What you see here is 3 "medium" French eggs plus a yolk; I added a bit of white to it after the picture was taken.
Put the eggs in a mixing bowl, beat to mix a bit, then add the oil, vanilla, and almond extracts and beat again to mix. Gradually, on low speed, mix in about half the dry ingredients.

 Beat at high speed for 5 minutes. Maida says the mixture will crawl up the beaters, but mine just sat there, as you see. Maybe that indicates a problem. In any case, stir in the remaining dry ingredients, for a "thick, sticky, and gooey" dough.

 Flour a large piece of foil or parchment, pour out the dough onto the flour, then sprinkle the top with more flour. I was probably more generous than I needed to be. Let this sit for 30 minutes.

 When the 30 minutes is up, heat the oven to 350 and line two cookie sheets with parchment, foil, or silicon liners. Heavily sugar a surface (clean counter, pastry cloth...) and carefully transfer the dough to it, shaking off as much flour as possible. Sugar the top of the dough. Roll or pat the dough out to an oblong about 12x6. I found that patting was the best I could do--the dough had settled to just about that size anyway.

 Using a bench scraper or long, sharp knife (but be careful with knives and silicon!) cut the dough crosswise into 3/4-inch strips, and then cut each strip in half.

 Grab each strip with both hands and give it a few twists. It won't be easy because the dough will still be quite sticky. Place the twists on your lined cookie sheets--they can go fairly close together.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (check after 20), until just pale golden (looks like mine went a bit beyond the pale). Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool, and then store air-tight. Hope for better luck next time.


  1. It's funny. I remember making these more than 20 years ago. And I remember them being light and airy and really delicious even though the ingredients were weird. I vividly recall buying the ammonium carbonate at the drug store.
    If you don't like oil-based baked goods, how are you going to like Melissa Clark's olive oil breads?

  2. Of course you loved them :-). Funny story: Sami said he had been munching on these in his office while reading this blog post. "Huh," he thought, "I *thought* these weren't very good! Now she tells me!"
    We'll see how I do with those olive oil baked goods. If I hate the first one I do, I'll start switching to butter.

  3. I get the feeling that your Ammonium carbonate was out of date or had been stored to hot and started breaking down into urea. That would account for the nasty smell.