The writer Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, “Smell and taste are in fact but a single composite sense, whose laboratory is the mouth and chimney is the nose.” I first heard this quote from Michelle Krell Kydd, who puts this philosophy into her deeds. Michelle organized the James Beard Foundation event with chef Bill Yosses and perfumer Christophe Laudamiel, during which the relationship between flavor and fragrance were explored in depth. As Michelle reflects, “Smell and taste hit us where we live—in memory and emotion, in the past and in the present, all simultaneously. This is what makes these particular senses so powerful.” Given the close link between the two senses, the discoveries one makes into the realm of cuisine translate into olfactory appreciation and vice versa. As an example from my own experiences, the beautiful note of bitter chocolate woven into Serge Lutens’s Borneo 1834 prompted me to create a cake that allowed the bitterness of chocolate to stand out. Similarly, a Thai basil stir-fry with bean sprouts had me craving a scent that pairs the lemony clove verdancy of this fascinating herb with vegetal musk. One passion never fails to feed another. …
Michelle’s recipe for Persian Orange Blossom cookies offers a perfect gustatory-olfactive experience—the luscious fragrance of these cookies is bound to fully satisfy both senses. An easy to make butter cookie dough serves as a canvass for the notes of spicy orange zest, honeyed orange blossom water and velvety vanilla. The subtle crunch of pistachios and their delicate flavor of sweet, green tree sap beautifully complement the orange sparkle. Each bit of the cookie is wonderful—the melting sweetness of butter and sugar followed by the explosion of orange flavor. The only way to describe it is addictive.
Persian Orange Blossom Cookies
About 25-30 cookies
2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
2 sticks (8 ounces, 130 grams, 1 cup) butter, softened till it can be mixed with fork*
1/3 cup (75 grams) granulated sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons orange blossom water**
zest from one medium sized organic orange
1/3 cup (50 grams) apricot preserves (I’ve used orange, fig, plum and strawberry with great results)
3/4 cup (100 grams) chopped pistachios, lightly toasted
Sift flour and salt together in a mixing bowl. In another bowl, mix sugar with egg yolks until well combined and set aside. In order for the flavor ingredients to blend well, always add them to the fat first. In this case, in another bowl, mix vanilla, orange zest, orange blossom water and butter. Inhale to enjoy the heady sweet orange fragrance emanating from the mixture. Add the sugar-yolk paste to the scented butter and mix well. Add the wet mixture to the flour and salt and mix until everything is incorporated. Divide dough into two halves, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375F/190C. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper (or just butter them—a method that works well if like me you always seem to run out of parchment paper). Prepare three bowls–with preserves, with toasted pistachios, and with lightly mixed egg whites. Michelle recommends adding some almond extract to the egg whites, and this is certainly a wonderful addition. I am rather lukewarm towards the flavor of almond extract, therefore I skipped it. The nutty facet is less pronounced in the finished result, yet the lovely floral scent of orange water stands out beautifully.
Remove the dough from the fridge, one part at a time and roll small, 1 inch balls (walnut sized). Lightly flatten them. Dip the top of the ball into the egg whites and place on the cookie sheet leaving about 1 inch of space between each cookie. Lightly indent the top with a finger and place ¼ teaspoon of preserves, or slightly less in order to prevent jelly from melting and leaking. Arrange pistachio slices over the cookies (in a decorative style, like my variation in the photo). Alternatively, you can also dip the cookie into the chopped pistachios right after they have been glazed with egg white.
Bake for 12 minutes, reversing sheets from top to bottom and back to front after first 6 minutes. The cookies should be barely colored on the sides, slightly darker on the edges. Wait for 10 minutes and transfer onto a rack to cool.
*The butter can be microwaved on a low setting, for about 60 seconds or less. Please be sure not to melt it completely.
**Orange flower water can be found at health food and gourmet stores. I prefer A. Monteux Orange Flower Water from France, which can be purchased at Kalustyan’s. I find it to be richer and sweeter than the greener orange blossom waters from Lebanon.
Photo © Bois de Jasmin.