In the “How Not to be an Earthworm” chapter of M.F.K. Fisher’s 1942 book, How to Cook a Wolf, she notes, “A useful thing to have on your shelf is a supply of gingersnaps or vanilla wafers.”
Fisher was advising on the economical gastronomy of blackout rooms and emergency rations. But this struck a cord. The delicate nature of a thin, crisp cookie awards certain pleasures during most un-delicate situations.
Useful advice. I’ve been experiencing some residual effects of a very unromantic breakup and lease break. Personal unpleasantries. To be clear, nowhere near wartime. But psychological shrapnel nonetheless.
I tend to recognize a hovering emotional raincloud when I start reflexive leisurewear shopping. I’m drawn to glorified robes and wide legged pants. Garments that I will probably try to pass off as “bohemian” on the street.
And so I found solace in Fisher’s plucky chapter on how to make the best of times in the worst of times. I minded her warning against becoming a metaphorical earthworm. Took note of her practical cookie employment. And decided to dial down on the kimonos.
Thus the protection today comes in the form of a steady supply of wispy shortbreads. Of which I suggest a healthy therapeutic dose.
The rounds are fairly mildly flavored, despite any preconceptions about rye. It brings similar characteristics that whole wheat would, but I’d argue rye is slightly sturdier. Pleasantly rustic. And a fine partner for the cacao nibs, which have lingering whispers of coffee. All of this is bound by butter and turns toffee-like after a few days.
My advice is to squirrel some away in your freezer. They get better with age. I also suggest you listen to Fisher with whatever battles you’re facing. Cookies or no cookies. She closes out her chapter by saying:
“Use as many fresh things as you can, always, and then trust to luck and your blackout cupboard and what you have decided, inside yourself, about the dignity of man.”
Rye Cacao Nib Shortbreads
1 cup rye flour
1 cup all-purpose (or 1 scant cup whole wheat pastry flour)-see note
1 tsp cinnamon
1¾ sticks (14 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup chocolate covered cacao nibs
Sift the two flours and the cinnamon over a medium bowl. In the bowl of a kitchen stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla until smooth and creamy (but not overly fluffy), about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides with a spatula and then mix in the cacao nibs.
With the mixer on low, add in the flour and then stir with the spatula until just incorporated. Place the mound of dough onto plastic wrap and shape into a 12 x 2-inch log. Wrap up the log and smooth out any uneven areas so it is fairly uniform in size. Refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.
Set the oven to 350 degrees and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using a sharp knife, cut the cold dough into ¼-inch slices and place about 1½ inches apart. (You should be able to fit 12 to 15 per sheet.)
Bake 12 to 14 minutes, or until the cookies turn light golden brown at their edges. (Rotate the pans half away through the cooking.) Leave them to cool for a minute or two and then place them on a wire rack to fully cool. Repeat with remaining dough.
Yields about 40 cookies
-These get better the longer they sit. And I’ve found they turn nutty after about a week. (They last brilliantly in the freezer; Molly also mentions they’ll store at room temperature for up to a month, if they actually last that long.)
-I’ve made these with all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour. Both with great results, though the whole grain lent a certain nutty edge. It won’t be the end of the world if you use a full cup of the whole wheat pastry flour, but slightly less than that will make them less likely to crumble.
-You can order the nibs here.