If you thought butter was easy, whoa, Nelly! Ricotta is like...breathing. It's like...walking. It's like...ricotta.
Ricotta is a vastly underappreciated cheese. I mean, how often...
There are a few things that I absolutely cannot pass up when they present themselves. A back rub is one, especially if it involves a serious kneading such as one I might give to an especially unruly heap of bread dough. Another is homemade marshmallows...because they're delicate and succulent in ways that commercial marshmallows can only dream of being. Skeins of homespun yarn, unusual chocolate bars, and just one more episode of Downton Abbey also fall into this indulgent category.
And then there are cookies. I don't profess originality here. I know that cookies are literally impossible to refuse, especially if warm from the oven. Doubly so with a small glass of milk, coffee, or tea. In fact, now that I think of it, I don't think you're allowed to pass up a cookie if it's offered to you. It may be one of those unwritten rules. Sort of like putting your napkin in your lap or not wearing white after Labor Day.
Cookies also have beguiling and delightful names. Snickerdoodle. Biscotti. Madeleine. Names that coat your tongue and roll smoothly down your throat, in anticipation of the delicacy to come.
Cookies exist in a marginal space. This is perhaps what makes them so difficult to ignore. They can be appropriate for breakfast, provided they are filled with raisins and oats and flaxseed meal. They can also be dessert or snack. They can be crispy or chewy, flat and crusty or tall and cakey, they can have fillings or icings like cake, but more often than not the goods are in the cookie itself.
I have definite reservations about a lot of foods, but when it comes to cookies, I literally can't think of any. This is probably because I figure I'm eating a cookie, so things can't be that bad. The only problem with cookies is that there are so many recipes to try that I could easily make nothing else. But most cookie recipes make dozens of the little sugar bombs, meaning I probably shouldn't limit my culinary career to cookies. It just wouldn't be wise.
But today, I decided, was a fine day for a cookie of a humble and unassuming disposition. A cookie to eat after a bowl of soup or perhaps with a hot cup of tea on the front porch. A cookie, in short, for a brisk autumn day--the Hermit.
Who really knows where cookies get their names? I can only imagine that the Hermit's namesake is indeed the hermit--one who humbly and simply lives apart from society. And like the abstemious hermit, these cookies are quite homely. They attain a very light brown in the oven, but mostly they aren't much to look at. Their true glory lies within--a center studded with apricots, walnuts, and coconut. This recipe is from the Joy of Cooking, but, as you know, I like to have a little fun when I bake, so some of the adjustments are mine. Namely, the orange zest and icing.
Because I enjoy a little well-placed icing, these cookies are graced with a simple brown sugar penuche. You could, however, do without it. I simply think it takes them up a notch. You could also play around with the dried fruit and nuts you add to the batter. Raisins, golden raisins, currants, candied lemon or orange peel, candied ginger, and dates would be appropriate here. As would black walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts. I have also tried this recipe in bar form--simply spread the batter into a 9-inch square pan and bake until lightly browned and dry on top.
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Grease or line 2 cookie sheets.
Whisk until blended:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Beat in a large bowl until creamy:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
Zest of one orange
Add the flour mixture and beat in until smooth. Stir in:
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut
Drop the batter by teaspoonfuls on the lined cookie sheets. Bake, rotating once, until light brown and dry to the touch, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a rack to cool.
Prepare the frosting. Heat over medium heat in a small saucepan, stirring constantly, until smooth:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup light cream or evaporated milk
Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Gradually add, beating until spreadable:
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or 1 teaspoon dark rum
If the icing is still too thin (you want a barely spreadable consistency), add more confectioner's sugar.
To ice the cookies, simply dip the tops of the cookies in the icing and then place on a rack until the icing firms up. To smooth the top of the icing, if desired, wet your finger in a little water and dab the icing.