Salt and Pepper Cookies

The Oscars are coming up this weekend. Is that something you are excited about? It doesn't matter. Let's talk about the Best Picture nominees. They changed the rules a few years back, and then changed them again, and now there are about 40 Best Picture nominees. So now the young people will watch? Who knows. Sadly, I have only seen one of them, so we have a long road ahead of us. Just like War Horse had, probably. That's not the one I saw. I'll just make some stuff up because I need some sort of topic to introduce these cookies (although this has nothing to do with the cookies - I will make some connection between the two that is a wild stretch a the end, like usual).

The Artist

Let's start with the winners, because losers are last. It looks like this is going to win, because it makes people feel good but it is also a silent film so Academy members are like "Art!" but not so much art that it is confusing and difficult. People feel proud of themselves for seeing it, but it goes down easy because it has a cute dog. Here is a gold statue for your troubles.

It seems very nice and enjoyable and I wouldn't mind seeing it at some point. That's about all you can say, because this movie seems very inoffensive. Congratulations.

Extremely Loud & Incredible Close

Hahaha, this movie does not seem inoffensive at all. I did not see this movie either, but I did see the trailer, and oh brother this movie looks like the worst kind of cloying, with a precocious child and September 11 and Tom Hanks, an American treasure, being dead and oh the strings swell and everyone helps out and it takes a village and I feel emotionally manipulated. I hope this movie does not win.

The Descendents

I'm very afraid that I know what this movie will be like before I see it and then I will see the movie and it will be like, "Yup, that's exactly how I thought it would be." Do you know what I mean? Like The Kids Are Alright, I thought beforehand it would be just like the previews but longer, and it was. "Yup, the kids were alright." Which I guess is a lot of movies, like all of the ones described as "Oscar bait" tend to be what you think they will be like, long and starchy, but I'm pretty sure I can imagine this one with long talks and understated performances and some dry humor and at the end you think, "Those made-up characters will turn out OK and that movie was OK." Although I kind of thought Up In the Air would be like that and I love that movie. 

The Help

Is this movie racist? I heard this movie was racist? Is it about how white people will save the black people or something like that? I like to think maybe it isn't, because Emma Stone wouldn't pick a racist movie, she's great, but maybe it was different on the page. Look at me, using movie talk. Hahaha, I don't know if they say that. "The movie really read differently on the page." They should say that. It sounds good and movie-ish. If this was on cable and I wasn't doing anything I would watch it, but I don't really think this movie is for me.

Hugo

Did you read how they (the Academy people?) won't let Sacha Baron Cohen go to the Oscars even though he is in this movie because he wants to go to the ceremonies as the character from his new movie? Method acting! Actually it's more like he wants attention and the Oscars want all the attention so this is a very Hollywood argument of who will get the most attention? Probably Angelina Jolie. She always seems to get a lot of attention.

Anyways, I want to see this movie! It looks charming!

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen is a difficult one, because on the one hand, you know, but on the other hand people seem to not care about that anymore? Speaking strictly of his movies, I like Match Point, which doesn't really feel like a Woody Allen movie, and some of his other recent ones, like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Scoop. On the other hand, I'm ambivalent at best to his other movies and Anything Else is one of my least favorite movies ever. They should publish my film criticism, really. Anyways, I did not see this movie, but my sister did, and she felt it was eh

Moneyball

This movie is based on a book by Michael Lewis, who is a very good writer. Did you read The Big Short? I haven't but I want to. We'll get to the cookies. Anyways, that has nothing to do with the quality of the movie because he also wrote The Blind Side and that movie, oh brother. Did that win Best Picture? I hope not.

Anyways, I think we can agree that in this case the nomination is the award and congratulations Moneyball on your nomination.

War Horse

Of all the movies this feels like the Oscariest. It has war and Steven Spielberg and it covers a large amount of time and it's set in the past and I think it probably just got an automatic Oscar nomination. 

Speaking of Steven Spielberg, did you ever notice in Jurassic Park that during the scene where the T-Rex is supposed to eat the goat (but he wants to hunt!) a little while later the ground the goat was standing on suddenly turns into a sheer drop-off that the Jurassic Jeep falls off of and into a tree? I was watching something and the script supervisor said she brought it up and Steve was like, "Who cares? It's more exciting this way." Now that scene always takes me out of the movie. Also, War of the Worlds is also one of the worst movies I've ever scene.

Yay, War Horse.

Tree of Life

This was my favorite movie of 2011, of the ones that I saw (obviously), and the only movie of the nominees that I have seen. And this despite the fact that I saw it in a theater that was having some sort of salsa concert in the theater on the other side of the screen so there was this strange second soundtrack of drummy dancy music that ruined the movie sometimes, particularly when the movie got very quiet and meditative and the light through the trees, which was a lot, and it was like, but that little kid is so sad this flamenco music is not appropriate, but even with all of that it is my favorite movie of the year.

Of course, it's not going to win because of all that quiet meditative light through the trees. And how the movie kind of stopped for a lengthy music video of the history of the universe. And how there was no plot, per se. Even though that's WHY the movie is so good. Not only did it finally try to do something different, but it was crazy successful to the point where the movie has stayed with me since I saw it, which is going on a year ago I think. It was genuinely moving (except for the corny heaven ending, but I like to block that part out, and the movie is about 5 hours long, in a good way, so even when you block that part out you have more than enough movie left, and I did not give the ending away, I mean I did, but this movie isn't like that so it doesn't matter). 

So even though this movie is not going to win, because the Oscars like a particular type of film for their fancy award (I think the Oscars would be very happy if they just made The King's Speech every year), this is the one that should win. Says me.

Melancholia

This movie should have been at least nominated! It was great! Hahaha, what a terrible wedding and life. But I still love this movie. I hope that's how the world ends with loud opera music. I saw this movie on my birthday. You probably should not do that, but you should see it if you haven't. If you have, wasn't that great? Weren't you shell-shocked at the end? They also should have nominated Hanna, which is a modern classic in my mind and I will rewatch that all the time, and Drive, which was the most entertaining movie of the year. I hope to watch Martha Marcy May Marlene this weekend and that might be added to the list. I will keep you posted. Did Insidious come out last year? That was also great. A new classic scary movie that wasn't about cutting people's limbs off. 

Anyways, maybe you are going to an Oscar party and you need something that is classy to bring? Well, what a coincidence, these cookies are VERY classy and sophisticated. I'm sure they sound strange, but they are amazing. The white pepper in the cookie is very subtle, giving them an exotic, spicy note, which is tempered by the salty sweetness of the filling. This comes from the Baked Explorations cookbook, which is one of my favorite baking cookbooks. Give it an Oscar, too, Academy, while you are handing them out.

Some people have said they've had trouble with the dough, which I did not have. The end. No, I'm not sure what the issue was, but it worked very well for me. The dough should be chilled but not rock hard when you roll it out. They call for a lot of vanilla, but it's important to temper the flavor and because tiny amounts of vanilla get lost in most baked goods and people should probably use more in general. Anyways, they are extraordinary.


Salt and Pepper Cookies

Adapted from Baked Explorations  |  Makes About 30-40 Cookies

RECIPE

In a large bowl, mix together the 3 1/2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, 2 teaspoons of white pepper and 1/4 cup cocoa powder. Set aside.

In your standing mixer fitted with the paddle, beat together the 3 sticks of butter with the 1 1/4 cups of dark brown sugar and 1 3/4 cup powdered sugar on medium speed until it is light and airy, at least 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl, turn the mixer to medium-low, and add the three egg yolks one at a time, incorporating fully. Add the 1 tablespoon of vanilla and 3 ounces of melted dark chocolate and mix until fully incorporated. Scrape the sides once more and mix one more time for about 10 seconds.

Now add half of the dry ingredients that were previously set aside. Cover the mixer with a towel and beat on medium-low until incorporated. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients to form a thick dough.

Loosely shape the dough into two equal balls. Wrap them tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 3 hours, or until they are well-chilled. 

TO BAKE

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper.

Unwrap one dough ball and divide again equally. Work with one at a time - place the other back into the refrigerator.

Lightly dust your work surface with an even layer of flour. Knead the dough for only a moment to make it pliable and form it into a disk. Roll the dough out until it is an even 1/4-inch thick. Work quickly and keep the dough moving, flipping it and re-flouring so it does not stick. Use your favorite round cookie cutter - roughly 2 to 4 inches - to cut the tops and bottoms out. Transfer the dough to the baking sheets, leaving a bit of space between each one.

Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with a little salt then bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, rotating halfway through. The cookies should look dry. Cool the cookies for about 5 minutes and then transfer to racks to cool fully.

Repeat with the remaining dough (the scraps can be chilled again and re-rolled).

INGREDIENTS FOR THE COOKIES

+ 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

+ 1 teaspoon kosher salt

+ 2 teaspoons white pepper 

+ 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

+ 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes

+ 1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar

+ 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar

+ 3 large egg yolks

+ 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

+ 3 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), melted

 

RECIPE

In your standing mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the 5 ounces of shortening and 2 ounces of butter together on medium speed until smooth. Add the 3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar in three batches, mixing after each addition. Add the 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1 tablespoon of vanilla and 1 teaspoon of light rum and beat again for 10 seconds.

TO ASSEMBLE

Add about 2 tablespoons of the filling to the flat side of a cookie. Place another cookie, flat side down, on the filling and press lightly (you don't want to crack the cookies) so the filling spreads to the edges. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE VANILLA FILLING

+ 5 ounces vegetable shortening

+ 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks

+ 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

+ 1 teaspoon kosher salt

+ 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

+ 1 teaspoon light rum