This afternoon our good friends Morgan and Angela stopped by to pick us up for brunch, but before we left the apartment, Morgan opened up a giant backpack and started pulling out artifacts from some of their recent travels that they’d picked up as gifts for us and had forgotten to bring along the last million times we’d hung out.
There was a curious bottle of Patron tequila mixed with coffee and a lovely bottle of Cholula hot sauce from their recent trip to Mexico. There was also an exquisite wooden serving platter and spoon from their winter trek through a Columbian rain forest. As we admired each of these gifts, all carefully chosen just for us, I got to thinking about how wonderful it feels when someone gives you the perfect gift; something that either speaks to your tastes or curiosities, or simply makes the recipient feel spontaneously appreciated by the gift-giver.
I’ve never considered myself to be gifted in the gift-giving department. Whenever it’s time for someone’s birthday or baby shower, I get stressed out about what to get, make futile shopping trips, and either come home with something lame and generic, or worse, completely empty-handed. This feeling of gifting inadequacy is only exacerbated by the fact that I happen to be friends with some talented gifters and I’ve never come close to reciprocating their generosity.
Recently, I’ve discovered that I can make up for my shortcomings by giving away treats that I’ve made myself from carefully chosen recipes, executed to the best of my ability. On Friday I enjoyed a day off from bread class at the FCI by creating the perfect gift for Matthew, a dear friend who is packing up his smarty pants and moving to Pittsburgh to work towards his PhD.
What could be better than personalized fortune cookies? When I sat down to write the notes to go inside, I had planned on creating a set of more personal cookies of the “we’ll miss you” “we love you” variety to be given as a gift and then another set to be put out for the guests at his going away party. After some careful consideration, I settled on filling the public cookies with real old political campaign slogans (Matthew for President!), subbing in Matthew’s name for Ike, LBJ, etc. It seemed appropriate and fun, since Matthew is going to school for some ilk of Political Science.
Unfortunately, these are a bit challenging to make. For ever four that I took out of the oven, I averaged a 50% success rate, after I had gotten the hang of it. They harden fast, right out of the oven, and even though I got progressively faster (see notes below for tips), it was hard to beat the clock before the cookies got too hard to be malleable. I managed to form enough to make Matt’s gift, and I reserved all the broken bits from my failed attempts and they were devoured at the party, because they were amazingly light, crispy, and delicious, like tuiles with fun notes on the side.
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cookies: The Very Best Treats to Bake and to Share
It was impossible to photograph the folding of these – I had to move too quickly. I recommend cutting some paper towels into rounds (the same size as the round cookies, approx 4 1/2 inches in diameter), practicing the folding on these, and then using them to fold up the cookies as well. You can pull them out after the cookies have cooled, it helps the cookies stay formed, and you don’t have to suffer with burnt fingertips. Try to get the circles spread evenly on the sheet pans – I had to be patient, but it paid off. When baking, cook until the entire cookie is a golden brown (you may worry that they are burning, it’s that brown), with as few white spots as possible, since the white spots never get crispy, they just get rubbery and tough when cooled.
Makes approximately 30
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp.
4 large egg whites
1 cup superfine sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
Nonstick cooking spray
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet liberally with cooking spray. Cut 4 paper towel circles, approximately 5 inches in diameter to use for shaping. Create all of your fortunes, using five inch strips of paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine egg whites and sugar, and beat on medium speed, about 30 seconds. Add flour and salt, and beat until combined. Add butter, heavy cream, and almond extract, and beat until combined, about 30 seconds.
Pour 1 tablespoon of batter onto half of the baking sheet, and spread with the back of a spoon into a thin 5-inch circle; repeat on the other half of the sheet (I tried to do 4 cookies at once but found that I could only shape two at a time). Bake until the edges of the cookies turn golden brown, rotate pans halfway through, about 8 minutes.
Transfer baking sheet to a heat-resistant surface. Working as quickly as possible, slide a spatula (an offset spatula, available at specialty kitchen shops, works best) under one of the cookies. Lift it up, and place it on a clean paper towel, cut in a circle the same size as the cookie. Center a fortune paper along the diameter of the cookie. Using your fingers, fold the cookie in half, keeping the paper towel on the outer side of the cookie, pinching the top together to form a loose semicircle. Hold the cookie with your index fingers inserted at each open end, and slide your thumbs together along the bottom line. Press into the center of the cookie while bending the two open ends together and down to form the shape of a fortune cookie. This whole process should take about 10 seconds. Once the cookie hardens, which begins to happen almost immediately, you cannot fold it.
Place the fortune cookie on the kitchen towel to cool, and shape the second cookie. Repeat until all the batter is used up. To speed up the process, bake two to four cookies at a time, staggering two cookie sheets by 4 minutes to give you time to shape. To avoid wasting batter, practice folding with a circle of paper first.
Write your message on a long strip (I used 5 inch strips of a heavy weight computer paper). Thread the fortune through the cookie when it has cooled.