We’re hurtling straight toward the cookie season … pardon me, the holiday season. That’s the time when we’ll be needing lots of little treats.
We especially need orange-flavored treats. Once upon a time, oranges were strictly a winter pleasure, and something about this most optimistically colored fruit still echoes in the holiday aesthetic.
These cookies, however, are ravioli. That’s right, they’re ravioli baked cookie-fashion. The 1691 German cookbook known as “Vollständiges Nürnbergerisches” Koch-Buch categorizes them as kucheln, or little cakes, but the cookies are what they really are — sweet, crisp, crunchy cookies.
I know, the idea of German ravioli puzzles you. Well, there was a lot of French and Italian influence on upscale German cookery in the 17th century, and Mediterranean ingredients such as almonds and oranges were luxury goods north of the Alps. Mandeln Raffioln must have just seemed a natural concept.
The perfect thin pasta
Why not bake ravioli? You can finally use that very finest setting on your pasta machine (if it has six settings), the one you’d never dare use for making boiled ravioli, since these don’t get tossed around in cooking. The result is odd but pleasing — a disk of ground almonds, orange zest and spices surrounded by a square of crisp, browned paste. This cookie is unique in being practically fat-free. The only fat in it is oil in the almonds and orange peel, plus 1/36 of an egg yolk per cookie.
Or let’s call it an approximate square. The recipe says to roll the pasta as thin as possible (the thinner, the crisper), and the sheet that comes out of the finest setting on a pasta machine is likely to be somewhat oddly shaped. Go with it. You can trim the ravioli with a chef’s knife to make them as neat as possible, but these cookies strongly tend to be what we call rustic in appearance no matter what you do.
Wonton skins are convenient and perfectly square, but they’re also relatively thick and make a chewier cookie. If you want to substitute them, put 1½ teaspoons of filling in the center and fold one corner over to the opposite one to make a triangle, and figure on about 48 cookies.
Orange flavor to spare
If you don’t have any candied orange peel, use an apple peeler to remove the top layer of peel from two or three oranges, taking as little of the white part of the peel as possible. Mince the peel and boil it with 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar until it darkens and becomes translucent, 10 minutes. Drain the peel and discard the syrup. If you remove the zest with a super-fine grater instead of a peeler, it will include scarcely any of the bitter white peel and will need only a minute or two of boiling.
The original 1691 recipe called for about ¼ cup minced pistachios, but they’re out of season this time of year, so I either ignore that measurement or substitute one dried cranberry per cookie. The original recipe also called for rose water, but I’ve given up on getting most Americans to eat anything with rose water in it; I’m convinced they associate the flavor with soap. Anyway, why use rose water when orange blossom water suits the recipe better?
Makes three dozen
For the paste:
For the filling:
- For the filling, put the flour and ½ cup sugar in a bowl and mix. Add egg whites and enough water to make a kneadable dough. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Let rest, covered, at least ½ hour.
- Meanwhile, grind the almonds in a food processor. When they are as fine as coarse sand, add the orange blossom water so they don’t turn oily as you process them to a paste. Add the orange peel, pepper, mace, cardamom, a good pinch of cinnamon, the yolk and the ¾ cup sugar and process to a thick paste. You will have about 1½ cups filling.
- Divide the dough into four parts. Remove one to work on and cover the remaining three while you work. Roll the piece of dough in flour and run it through your pasta machine, starting at the coarsest setting and moving to the finest, flouring lightly at each pass. You will probably have to divide the dough in half at some point.
- Cut one sheet into oblongs. Fold over to make a square and pinch to seal. Or use a ravioli mold.
- Arrange on greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 F until the edges and bottoms are browned. Remove, toss with sugar and cinnamon and transfer to a rack to cool.
Zester Daily contributor Charles Perry is a former rock ‘n’ roll journalist turned food historian who worked for the Los Angeles Times’ award-winning Food section, where he twice was a finalist for the James Beard award.
Photo: Ravioli cookies. Credit: Charles Perry