Almond Whirls and Gastrophysics
Today’s post is brought to you by the British people. Namely, Mary Berry of Great British Bake Off fame and Charles Spence of weird psychology facts about food fame. Those brilliant people. What would be binge watch without them?
I know I’m not the only one who gets illusions of grandeur after watching an episode of GBBO. However, I may be the only one who then obsessively bakes the same thing for weeks following in a quest for yankee perfection of these often complicated British pastries. More on that when this recipe goes live.
My latest obsessive baking project featured the Viennese whirls that Mary bakes. Except that I’m not British, so I don’t like jam on my cookies. Instead, I prefer chocolate. A few changes were made, including jacking up the sugar and butter to maintain my fat baker American identity. I don’t feel bad about this. Grab the recipe for these gorgeous, totally impressive cookies here.
In other news, I finally finished one of the books I bought at The Strand during our trip to New York City: Gastrophysics by Charles Spence. It did not disappoint in that it was about gastronomy, psychophysics, and very, very, VERY British. Like, so British that you can hear him writing in an accent. I found that kind of charming, but also I found his writing a little bit annoying. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a terrible person.
ANYWAY. Bake these cookies. Take them to your mom’s house for the holidays. Bring them to work and tell your coworkers that Mary Berry personally gave you the recipe. Read the book and learn how to best serve these cookies so people think they’re even tastier than they are. Speak in a British accent when you tell people it’s acceptable to tell white lies and use psychology to manipulate how people feel about food. ‘TIS THE SEASON!
GBBO, but make it tasty and fattening.
I’m very into the Great British Baking Show, obviously. But you know what I’m not very into? Jam on cookies. Jam is for toast. Cookies are for chocolate and other delicious things. Not. Jam. So, with all due respect for the marvelous Mary Berry, I took her original Viennese whirls recipe and made it just a tad bit more … unrefined. I’m sorry for all of the things you need to use in both the icing and the cookies. Just read the instructions, and I promise everything will bake out okay.
Time: 30 minutes
1 1/2 cups of unsalted butter (also known as three sticks of unsalted butter), divided per instructions below and softened (I know; I’m asking a lot.)
2 1/3 cups of powdered sugar, divided per instructions below
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup of cornmeal
3 tsp of almond extract, divided per … (don’t kill me)
1/4 cup of cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 375, and get a piping back ready with a star nozzle. “WHOA WHOA WHOA.” What? “What?” Oh, okay. Here’s an example of what a star nozzle looks like. Buy some disposable piping bags, shove one of the star nozzle guys in, cut the bottom of the bag off so just the tip of the nozzle pokes out, then find a pint glass. Put the bag with the nozzle inside in the glass and fold the sides of the bag down around the cup. This will let you load the dough in much, much more easily. “Oh, okay.”
COOL, now make some dough: cut one tablespoon off of one of the sticks of butter. Save the small guy for the icing, and put the rest of the butter in a stand mixer with 1/3 cup of powdered sugar.
Beat the sugar and butter together until smooth, then add the flour and cornmeal. Mix until evenly combined, then add one teaspoon of the almond extract. Beat one more time around.
Using a spatula, put the dough into the piping bag that you so brilliantly prepared ahead of time. Now comes the time for muscles.
On a cookie sheet tray, pipe the dough into tight spirals, creating a nice circle with no holes. Think … cookie. You want an even number. I usually end up with 12.
After you’ve done that, pop those babies in the freezer for a good 10 minutes, then into the oven for about 12-14 minutes or just golden brown. Set aside to cool while you make THE ICING.
Do the whole piping bag prep trick with a new disposable piping bag and star nozzle. Set aside.
In a stand mixer, beat the remaining short stick of butter and two cups of powdered sugar together until smooth.
Add the cocoa and remaining two teaspoons of almond extract and beat until combined. This icing will seem realllllly stiff, but you want that. It needs to support a cookie.
Slap that icing into your piping bag situation, then set aside.
OKAY. Sandwich time. Grab two cookies that are similar in size. If you’re Mary Berry, any cookies you just made will do because they’re all perfectly identical. If you’re me, this is more of an exact science.
Put the two cookies pretty-swirled-top down in front of you, then pipe the icing onto one of them in the same spiral shape you used for the cookie pattern. Put the second cookie on top of the icing (boring side down), and voila! Almond whirl complete.
Repeat for all of the cookies, creating around six perfect cookie sandwiches.
Plot: In Gastrophysics, my man Charles Spence takes us through the science of all things food and restaurants.
Thoughts: Spence is an authority in sensory science, which makes him the perfect candidate to explain all of the weird science stuff happening inside your mouth and brain that makes food taste the way it does. Example: a smaller plate makes you feel fuller faster. Example two: the music playing inside a restaurant influences what you order. Who knew? Not me. Who feels manipulated now that you do know? Me!
Full of fascinating if unsettling revelations, this book sheds a lot of light on the science that’s revolutionizing the food industry, especially at places like Alinea and other ~cutting edge~ restaurants of that ilk. It was cool. It made me feel like an insider with access to trade secrets they didn’t want us to know.
Spence works in a lab that runs these experiments and is obviously enthralled by what they’re discovering about the culinary industry and how it relates to psychology. Sometimes that excitement translates into his writing, and other times, it’s like reading the diary of a really nerdy British dude.
Verdict: This one is packed full of great information. Unfortunately, the writer is nooooot the best guy to be conveying that great information. But, c’est la vie. You can get a copy here.
PST: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you buy something, I make a lil dough. Thanks!