La Noix de Muscade

“I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.
We became too self-aware; nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law.
We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody.
Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction—one last midnight—brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”

—Rust Cole, True Detective

I suppose spring isn’t the right time to be referencing Rust Cole’s doom and gloom, but forgive for today my moody melodrama.
It comes alongside an excellent cookie recipe, so I daresay it’s worth it.
And besides, it doesn’t really feel like the season has changed yet. Winds are still whipping, snow is still falling upstate and in Chicago, blooms are still only mere suggestions of buds, and the sun’s warmth is not yet fully baked.
I, um, think we might need a reiteration of our stage directions here.

Exeunt March, in the manner of a lamb.
Exe! Unt!

On the first day of spring, a nor’easter hit NYC. It was m i s erable.
The day after, a finger of spring light, so faint that it might have been mistaken for an indoor flood lamp slipped out in the early morning and later opened up into a jubilant and blinding day.
I had to go to the NYU hospital for volunteer orientation; it’s a fair hike from my office and requires a long-ish subway ride.
As I have mentioned here before, I do my best people watching when on the subway, particularly when I’m a bit moody and would like to be out walking in the sun rather than hurtling away in damp underground tunnels.

My favorite scene of the day was of two elderly deaf ladies, seated across from one another on the uptown 6, silently gabbing at the speed of light. They paused only when Spring St. shoppers shuffled through their path, craning their necks around skinny teenage-d legs and crisply creased shopping bags to recommence their discussion as quickly as possible.
I also took note of and rolled my eyes at the baseless optimism of the two men who stepped, one in a sweatshirt and other in a proper-looking ivy cap, lockstep onto the subway as they loudly answered phone calls. Both expressed only the mildest annoyance when their signals inevitably dropped. Resigned, they pocketed their iPhones, and the rest of the car sighed in relief.

Today’s day started with a dripping, grey smear of a morning, with a forecast that threatened rain. I was up and out of my apartment earlier than usual—sneakers hitting the pavement at 6:05AM.
It was cold and the sun hadn’t yet bothered to rise, so I hustled towards the gym with my fingers jammed into jacket pockets and shoulders hunched over to ward off the chill.

There are only two people in all of New York City who are fully aware of my comings and goings, of the early trudges to the gym and the exhausted late night slogs home from the office (and, in all honestly, the occasional stumble home on boozy nights).
I have never spoken a word to either.
They are the men who run the coffee/pastry and halal carts on my corner, daily bookends so constant that I’m sure many of my neighbors think they can’t possibly move shop every day.
But I have seen the coffee cart open and the halal cart close.

This morning, through admittedly bleary eyes, I saw someone on the pavement laying out cardboard underneath the bright lights of the coffee cart. I thought, at first, that it was one of the two (friendly) homeless men who frequent the corner, but as I neared, I realized it was the man who runs the cart.
He took careful pains to straighten out the cardboard just-so, and smoothed the corners with the flat of his hand a final time before standing, then bowing and kneeling. He was praying.

I was struck by this intimate moment of humanity; prayers directed towards Mecca on a raft of cardboard in the middle of the dirty, slick sidewalk of 14th St. on a drizzling, cold April morning.

In a jaded way, I have been asking myself lately how much of my observation of others is not exposition, but self-centered projection.
How many of these brief moments of presumed humanness are really nothing worth a second glance—just my nosiness taking over?
I wonder if I only take note and mark them as special in order to feel a rush of omniscience, a weak inflation of my ego. How aware and poignant and poetic am I.
Are we not all just people leading our daily lives? And isn’t my daily life bland and beige from the inside?
By attempting to extract meaning from my examination of perfect strangers, I am selfishly wondering who around me is doing the same to the figment of myself that exists within their view.

Mostly, I think, because it is so hard to accept the routine boringness of everyday life; this has become increasingly true in the age of social media, where highlight reels are curated over days and months, so you can post a perfect throwback of a cake while sitting in your desk chair drinking your fifth black cherry seltzer.
It’s not dishonesty, exactly. It’s something else entirely, and the purpose is not only to impress our followers, but to fool ourselves.
And so I make up backstories in my head and curate my instagram. Hmm.

This cookie recipe is a bit of a throwback, itself.
I developed it for the Feed Feed/Bob’s Red Mill winter cookie giveaway way back in December, which was an altogether excellent time.
(Some cookies that were memorable: Patti’s always intricate decorated sugar cookies, which came in the shape of twee penguins with neck-scarves, ice-skates, and earmuffs; Rachel’s milk masala shortbread cookies; Erin’s vanilla sandwich cookies with vanilla bean marshmallow; Sarah’s pan-banging chocolate chip cookies (!!!), and others. Also, someone made soft gingerbread cookies with a cracklingly tart lemon glaze, and the memory of the cookies apparently has outlasted my good manners/memory of their creator. Oops.)

These little gems have a base of fragrant nutmeg shortbread, which is buttery and rich but not so short that it crumbles before you can get it to your mouth; it provides a sturdy enough base for transport or gifting.
Lashed to the butter cookie with a drop of good dark chocolate are ultra light, melt-in-your-mouth maple meringues. These are so crunchy and crisp and delicate; they really reminded me why meringue is one of my top three favorite desserts.
A dusting of powdered sugar gives them an (un)seasonally appropriate finish (ha, ha, ha, yes this everlasting winter is very funny) and provides nice color contrast to the shades of beige underneath.

These are really a special little cookie, elegant and understated, but with a flavor profile that will pleasantly surprise you, even in its subtlety. Oh, and the French word for nutmeg was too poetic not to provide you a translation of the full title:
Des sablés à la noix de muscade avec des meringues au sirop d’érable. Le sigh.

Nutmeg Shortbread with Maple Meringues
makes 50-60 1.5″ cookies

ingredients:
for the cookies:
225 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
360 grams (3 cups) flour

for the meringues:
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon salt
60 grams (3 tablespoons) maple syrup
15 grams (1 tablespoon) water
200 grams (1 cup) sugar (can sub up to 50 grams (1/4 cup) maple sugar)

for assembly:
30 grams (1 ounce) dark chocolate, melted
Powdered sugar, as needed for dusting

directions:
Make the shortbread: beat butter on high speed for 3 full minutes, until fluffy and softened.
Add the salt, sugar, and nutmeg and beat on high speed for another 3 minutes; mixture should be lightened in color and not grainy.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the egg and vanilla; beat for 3 full minutes.
Scrape the bowl again and add the flour; fold a few times and then stir on low speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together in a ball.
Turn out the dough and knead into a ball; refrigerate for 15 minutes (and up to 2 days).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.
Cut out 1.5 inch rounds and place on prepared pans.
Re-roll dough until all has been used up (I filled 3 baking sheets and baked them 1 sheet at a time).
Place in freezer for 10 minutes.
Bake straight from the freezer for 8-10 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned.
Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the meringues: Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
Place egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place maple syrup, water, and sugar in a small pot and place over medium heat.
Begin to whisk the egg whites, carefully watching the syrup.
The syrup needs to reach 240 degrees F (115 degrees C) when the egg whites are at soft peaks; adjust speed of your stand mixer or heat under the pot accordingly.
Carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg whites with the mixer running, avoiding the whisk so that hot syrup does not splash.
Whip on high speed for 3-5 minutes, or until the meringue is fluffy, glossy, and holds stiff peaks.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a jumbo French tip and pipe small dollops on the prepared pans.
If you’re struggling with the parchment paper flying up and sticking to the meringue, just place small smears of meringue on the baking sheet at the corners as “glue” and stick the parchment down.
Once you have piped out your meringues, place them in the oven.
Bake at 275 for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200 degrees and dry for 2 hours, or until the meringues are dry and lift up off the parchment cleanly.
This can take much longer than 2 hours—it depends on the humidity in your home.
If need be, you can leave the meringues in the oven overnight (I left mine for a full 18 hours…!) at 200 degrees.
To assemble, use a small smear of dark chocolate to affix the meringue onto the shortbread and dust with a little powdered sugar for a snowy finish.

One comment

  1. Oh thank you for this post. Toronto has been a series of endless grey days (less the snow of NYC), thankfully… It’s nice to know I’m not the only one dreaming of spring / moving to the west coast.

    Wishing you spot some crocus’ sprouting up soon.

    Cheers,
    j

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