Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Uncle Milt's Half Moon Cookies (gluten free)

Uncle Milt's Half Moon Cookie, Kitchen Version
When life gets challenging, I retreat to the kitchen and bake.   I've been baking a mountain of confections and feeding our neighborhood since we found ourselves in the growing land of the suddenly unemployed two weeks ago.  And whenever I listen to the news and hear some talking-head cheerfully report that the economy is improving, it merely means another baking flurry is about to commence. 
Yesterday I decided to bake with purpose.  This time, I'm tackling everyone’s favorite, the holy grail of childhood memories; Snowflake Bakery's Half Moon cookie, the kitchen version. 
Converting Baking Hero, Milt Ziegler's commercial ingredient list for the Half Moon mix to a kitchen recipe takes a certain amount of good faith and apparently a very competent geek who happens to have some spare time these days.  Converting 15 pounds of cake flour to a manageable quantity that would fit in my Kitchen-Aid mixer, along with the balance of other ingredients is similar to one of those pesky math word problems.  There I was, biting my lip, double checking my math with a calculator, hoping I was not making a mistake.  Math word problems give me hives and a headache.
From over my shoulder there was suddenly the sound of Pink Floyd's Money in the form of a tiny hum coming from the Geek.  I paused, pencil in the air, waiting.  With a small, but audible “ah ha” mixed into the middle of  the song I heard footsteps receding to the kitchen. I followed.
Reading glasses perched carefully on his nose, he squinted and leaned in to watch the numbers shifting in a beaker filled with water; he was dropping in whole eggs, one at a time.  Rising up from that stooped over, back-aching bend, he grinned and said “two large eggs and a half cup of milk”.
I looked at my paper and did some fast calculations and sure enough – two eggs and 4 ounces of milk.  He'd gotten there faster, of course, and more accurately, like the good squint scientist that he is (hello: Bones). One fancy spreadsheet later I had my recipe. 
I’ve auditioned many black & white cookie recipes through the years trying to duplicate the Snowflake Half Moon Cookie memory from my childhood.  Alas, not a single one came close.  Until now.  Uncle Milt’s Half Moon kitchen recipe is quite probably the best version I’ve ever made. 
There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t pass a bakery in my neighborhood and wish it were Snowflake.   After the Snowflake article appeared in Salon’s Food page, a Facebook group, Snowflake Bakery Memories, was created by Milt’s son, Jeff.  After just a couple of weeks almost 250 people have joined the group.   Almost everyone whistfully remembers the fabulous Half Moon cookies (black & whites).  
The Facebook page is the closest we will get to Snowflake Bakery these days, but with Milt’s generosity, now we can have  a kitchen version of  the popular Half Moon cookie.  Go ahead.  Close your eyes when you take that first bite.  It will take you all the way back to those wonderful Snowflake days.
And every time you make Uncle Milt’s Half Moon cookies, be sure to send some love to the guy who made it all possible. 
Uncle Milt's Half Moon Cookies
Ingredients - Cookies
  • 2 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 oz. Crisco shortening
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs (mixed well)
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon pure lemon flavoring
  • Splash of fiori di sicilia (optional but seriously worth it)
  • 2 ½ cups cake flour ( gluten free flour, add ½ tspn xanthan gum)
  • 1 scant tablespoon baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ cup whole milk (plus a tablespoon if needed)
Ingredients - Glaze
  • 2 cups sifted confectioner sugar (King Arthur has no additives)
  • 2 tablespoons valrhona or other quality unsweetened cocoa powder (sifted)
  • 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
  • Splash of vanilla and fiori di sicilia

Directions for Cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment or silpats.  Makes half a dozen, 5 inch Half Moon cookies. 
Mix together flour, baking powder, salt (xanthan gum) and set aside.  In stand mixer, cream butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add mixed eggs and incorporate well.  Add flavorings.  Alternately mix in flour mixture and milk.  Beat on high just until incorporated and fluffy.  Add a tiny bit more milk if the batter seems too stiff.  You want the batter to be sturdier than cupcake batter, but not like cookie dough.
Scoop by half cups, five mounds to a baking sheet, well spaced.  Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon, flatten the mound into a 4.5’ to 5” circle until it actually looks like a Half Moon/Black & White cookie.  They will spread slightly, but not much.
Bake about 8 minutes and rotate pans.  Bake about 10 minutes more until lightly golden.  Cool completely.
Directions for Glaze
Sift the sugar into a bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons of hot water and stir until the mixture is a spreadable glaze.  Add the flavorings and let set for about 30 seconds.  Spoon onto one half of the flat side of the cookie.  Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon, spread the glaze thinly to the edges.  Let set while finishing up the others.
Add the sifted cocoa to the remaining glaze and more water if necessary.  Using the same method finish the glaze on the other half of the cookie. 
Let set about an hour until hard.  
Notes:  Once scooped, you have to spread the batter to the diameter just under what you want for the cookie size.   Don’t worry about it being too thin.  They rise.  Don’t over bake because they will get crispy.  Half Moons should be soft.
The glaze can get runny if you add even a tiny bit too much liquid.  To remedy that, add more sugar.  You want it thin, but not liquidy.  It is easier to do the white glaze first and then the chocolate.  Just be cautious to not hold the cookie over the others while spreading the chocolate glaze or you might spill it onto the other white glazed halves.

I cannot emphasize enough the addition of  fiori di sicilia flavoring from King Arthur.  A tiny bit goes a long way and makes your pastry smell and taste like it came from the pastry shop, or in this case, from Snowflake Bakery.  It is an enhancement that will make you swoon.  I promise.


Bon appétit and thank you to celebrity baking hero, Uncle Milt!

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