These are Arnheim biscuits. I found the recipe in a book called Pot on the Fire, by John and Matt Thorne. It’s an idiosyncratic book, and it rubbed me the wrong way–I’m definitely not what Havi Brooks would call its Right Person. On the other hand, this recipe made it all worthwhile. No less a personage than Roald Dahl dubbed Arnheims “the best cookie in the world.” I don’t know if I’d say that . . . but while I was debating the question I ate six of them. So there you are.
They’re crisp, light, sugary, buttery, a sort of cross between shortbread and palmier . . . irresistable. I didn’ t add any Fiori di Sicilia, but I really, really wanted to. Because I want to add it to everything. The King Arthur people describe it as “an all-natural combination of vanilla and citrus, with a pleasingly floral aroma,” but that doesn’t do it justice at all. It smells like birthday cake and an armload of summer flowers and sunshine and clean linen on the clothesline in a breeze. It would make a great perfume.
I love perfume. And I dream of having a perfect signature scent . . . you know, like French women do (at least the French woman who haunts my imagination, the one with the perfect perfume, and the exactly right red lipstick, and the scarves that tie themselves with perfect chic). For awhile, I wore a scent called Sugar Cookie–I don’t even remember where I found it, but it was sweet and sugary and tasty. Then my impeccably sophisticated and worldly friend Deborah said to me, “Girl, you are too old to be wearing that junky Love’s Baby Soft. Get yourself to the Nordstrom’s and buy something for a woman your age.”
Then I found Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, which was surely grown up, if not at all what Deborah had in mind. I was mesmerized–perfume inspired by Tennyson, Swinburne, Baudelaire, Steampunk, and Neil Gaiman. So I bought myself some Brisingamen, “the amber necklace of Freyja, Norse Goddess of Love, Sex, Attraction, and Fruitfulness. Her magnificent necklace was bought from four Dwarves (Alfrik, Berling, Dwalin, and Grer) at the price of four nights of her passion. When Brisingamen graces your throat, no one can resist your charms. A glittering mantle of rich golden notes: five ambers, soft myrtle, apple blossom and carnation.” Sadly, when Brisingamen graced my throat, so did some big red hive-y welts–I was allergic to something in it.
Later, I found Christopher Brosius I Hate Perfume, and couldn’t resist In the Library, which he describes as “Russian and Moroccan bindings, worn cloth, and a hint of wood polish,” but which turns out to smell just like the Rare Book Room at the Ohio State University’s Main Library, which I regularly visit in my dreams (although it’s much bigger in Dreamland than it was in real life). Smelling like a library, though, is not most people’s idea of perfume, and it caused a lot of wrinkled brows.
At this point, it seems unlikely that I’ll find the perfect scent to express myself. I’m content to bake instead–the essence of perfect cookie, cake, or bread will have to do.
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 stick salted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 cup demerara or raw sugar (more may be needed
Mix all the ingredients except butter in Kitchen Aid. Add butter one piece at a time, mixing for a full minute after each addition. You’ll have a sticky, pliable dough. Form it into a ball, put it in a ziplock bag, and refrigerate for at least two hours, and up to overnight. Divide it into two pieces and return one to the refrigerator.
Cover your work surface thickly with demerara sugar and roll the dough out as thinly as possible–really, really thin. Thinner than linguine. Keep sprinkling with sugar as you roll. As you can, flip and loosen the dough, so it doesn’t stick. Work quickly, and don’t skimp on the sugar. When it’s as thin as you think it will go, cut it into fingers using a rectangular cookie cutter, or use a pizza cutter to cut 1″ x 3″ fingers. Don’t even think about re-rolling the scraps–the dough dampens the sugar and it gets all manky. Just bake the scraps, ragged as they may look.
Transfer them carefully (I used an offset spatula) to parchment-lined baking sheets. They can be quite close together, as they won’t rise or spread. Bake at 275 degrees F for 40-45 minutes–till they are crisp and brown. Lift the parchment off the sheets and let the cookies cool completely.
Then the tricky part: trying not to eat them all standing at the kitchen counter, with a cup of coffee, and the sun coming through the prisms hanging in the kitchen window.