You know what drives me crazy? When I go to a restaurant and try to order dessert and the whole pastry menu is full of savory. I mean, I appreciate a dessert menu that has more than the been-there-done-that-like-100-times options of flourless chocolate cake, some form of apple tart and a selection of gelatos. But a polenta olive oil cake with rosemary ice cream? Really? I already had dinner! I'd rather just have a Snickers bar and call it a night.
Dessert should be dessert, people. It should not be confused with other courses or meals from other parts of the day. Another example: no matter what nutritionists in womens' magazines say, a dish of plain fruit is not sufficient for dessert. It is breakfast. I think I heard Ina Garten say once that no one remembers what you serve for dinner, but everyone remembers dessert. And if all I get is a plate of strawberries, then I am definitely remembering the time I got so depressed at the end of a meal that I stopped speaking entirely. This is just the way I usually feel. Unless--unless!!--said fruit is accompanied by a pile of etheral cookies like Cats' Tongues. Bring on the fruit salad, sister!
This recipe comes from The Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook, and you know Alice Waters is all about fruit for dessert. But in the recipe notes for Cats' Tongues, she mentions how she could eat an entire platter of them with a fresh peach. There ya go, Alice! I knew you had it in you, girlfriend. It was my first clue that these cookies were really something special.
It's almost a misnomer to call these beauties "cookies". They're really more of a wafer, so thin and delicate they practically melt in your mouth as soon as they shatter between your teeth. The hit of almond extract and spark of ginger makes them a beautiful accompaniment to seasonal fruits of all kinds. When shaped as directed in the recipe, they really do resemble the thin curve of a cat's tongue. Well, some of mine came out looking like that, but some in the batch also came out looking just like potato chips. And I couldn't help but think of how awesome it would be to have a bowl full of "cookie chips" and just watch Oprah or something, definitely without fruit. But I digress.
The batter for Cats' Tongues comes together swiftly--it's the shaping that takes some doing. The batter needs to be spread thin in on a sheet pan with an offset spatula or the back of a teaspoon, and precision counts to achieve even baking.
I found the easiest way to get some consistency in the size and impressive thinness of the cookies was to first pipe Hershey's Kiss-size dabs of batter (or thereabouts--you can make them whatever size and shape you want) onto the baking sheet, then spread the batter into wafer-thin submission with a spoon and a little flick of the wrist. (Tip: if you use Silpat liners, it's extra easy to scrape up your mistakes and re-form the cookies while you get the hang of it--as if I need to give you another reason to buy Silpat if you haven't already).
When the cookies go into the oven to bake, watch them like a hawk. Once they begin to brown at the edges, the rest of the cookie will brown all over so quickly your head with snap back (sort of an exaggeration, but just watch them closely, okay?). Pull them from the oven and immediately begin delicately pulling the cookies from the sheet and forming them into some kind of interesting curved shape that appeals to you, twist them at both ends, or drape them over a wooden spoon handle or even the grates of your cooling rack.
If you make them really big, you can even drape the warm cookies over inverted custard cups or something similar, and form them into adorable edible vessels for serving a bowl of berries that even I might actually call dessert.
Adapted from The Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook
Watch the cookies carefully during baking after about the 6 minute mark. If you let the cookies get too brown all over before pulling them from the oven they won't be as malleable; whereas if you pull them out a wee bit too soon, and you can't form them all quickly enough before they start to cool and harden, you can pop them back into the oven for a moment without worrying about them over-browning.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking liners.
In a medium bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg whites, then fold in the flour. Beat in the salt, vanilla, almond extract and ginger until the batter is perfectly smooth.
Scrape the batter into a piping bag fitted with a large round tip or plastic food storage bag (snip the corner of the bag with scissors after filling). Pipe the batter onto the lined baking sheets into whatever portion size you desire. Spread the batter very thinly with a vertical swipe using the back of a teaspoon or a small offset spatula. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown. While the cookies are still warm, twist and curve them into whimsical shapes before setting them on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.