Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Orange Spice Cookies: A Fragrant Recipe

Sweet Spice is an aromatic spice blend sold at Super Green Land, (a supermarket in Dearborn Michigan that is part of a small chain of Middle Eastern supermarkets in the United States). The mixture is similar to anise seed laden Lebanese“cake spice” (ka’ak), but relies on fennel seed for its licorice-like quality. Fennel has a rooty vegetal aroma in comparison to anise, and is less assertive in pastry application when combined with warm spices like cinnamon.

The ingredients in Green Land Sweet Spice include anise, cinnamon, fennel and “spices”, the later of which sounds like a shopkeeper’s secret. When Green Land Sweet Spice is tasted neat, one can detect mahlab (seed of the St. Lucie Cherry which is fragrant and has the taste of bitter almonds), nutmeg and a souring agent that hits the taste buds like salt before turning tart.

The combination of fennel seed with orange peel imparts a delicate caramel-like effect that is nothing short of sublime. It is an excellent example of a synergistic flavor pairing that works brilliantly in a cookie recipe. Glass Petal Smoke decided to use the master dough from December's Lebanese Cake Spice Cookie recipe as a base for Green Land Sweet Spice blend.

If you have access to food grade essential oil of neroli two drops will add a delicate touch of floralcy to the overall flavor of the cookies. Note to perfumistas: this flavor suggestion creates a Guerlainade effect in the raw dough that disappears once the cookies have been baked. The woody, amber-like quality of Shalimar is instantly recognizable.

Glass Petal Smoke suggests allowing the cookies to rest in a sealed container a day before serving. This allows the orange zest to mellow so the other flavors can shine through. The addictive crunch of this cookie makes it impossible to east "just one" when accompanied by a good cup of coffee or tea. 

Orange Spice Cookies
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
Yield: 60 cookies

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour (sifted)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
4 ounces (one stick) unsalted butter (softened at room temperature)
1 tablespoon Mexican vanilla extract
cup organic granulated sugar
1 organic egg (room temperature)
2 tablespoon Green Land Sweet Spice (a blend)
Grated zest of one small organic orange

·      Cut a 20 inch piece of wax paper and set aside. This will be used to chill the cookie dough.
·      Sift flour, salt, baking powder and sweet spice mixture in a large bowl. Set aside
·      In a small bowl grate orange peel using a zester.
·      Add egg to the orange zest and incorporate.
·      Blend vanilla extract into the egg and zest mixture.
·      In another small glass bowl microwave the butter for 15 seconds (or enough time to liquefy without heating it).
·      Add sugar to butter and incorporate.
·      Mix butter mixture with the egg mixture.
·      Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring gently with a silicone spatula.
·      Mix the dough thoroughly with your hands. It will have a soft consistency.
·      Using a tablespoon, spoon out dough onto the middle third of a sheet of wax paper and form a 12 inch oblong roll. The dough should be one inch thick and 2 ½ inches wide.
·      Fold the bottom third of the wax paper over the dough, taking care to keep the shape of the dough to the specified measurements. Use your hands to smooth the paper over the dough.
·      Fold the top third of the wax paper over the dough and seal the dough at the ends.
·      Put the wax paper covered dough in the freezer for 1 ½ to 2 hours (or until it is firm). It should be chilled so you can slice through it (not rock hard).
·      Divide oven rack into thirds.
·      Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
·      Line two cookie trays with parchment paper.
·      Unwrap the dough on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife cut ¼ inch slices of dough and place cookies 1 inch apart on each cookie sheet.
·      Bake for 8-10 minutes, reversing trays from top to bottom and front and back to ensure even baking.
·      These cookies will be a light golden color when they are done. The edges will be a soft brown.
·      Allow cookies to cool. Transfer to a wire cooling rack when they are no longer hot.
·      Store in an airtight container.

The website for Green Land Food is limited. Glass Petal Smoke recommends using Yelp to see if there is a Green Land market in your area. The company is based in Atlanta, Georgia.

If you live near or plan to visit southeast Michigan make sure to visit Super Green Land in Dearborn. It is located on Warren Avenue where many other flavor adventures await those with a curious palate and a desire to learn more about Middle Eastern food culture.

Image of Orange Blossom by Meejanski via Creative Commons.

Image of Fennel Seeds by Jeeheon Cho via Creative Commons.

Monday, February 11, 2013

In Pursuit of Olfaction: Life Lessons in Perfumery

Whenever I am asked to speak publicly about the sense of smell, and why I find olfaction so compelling, I return to four elementary truths related to my experience in perfumery. Colored by alchemy, science and mystery they reappear with a self-affirming quality that provides comfort and inspiration.

I hope you will take the time to explore the role of the sense of smell in your life. Whether you are drawn to it as an art or a science, it's hard not to fall in love with it.
You Are the Vessel
How we organize our memories, even the ones we prefer to ignore or suppress, defines who we are. The sense of smell and one’s identity are very closely linked. When you practice smelling, via your environment or perfume, you are sculpting the clay of identity.

Olfaction is about experience versus the kind of judgment that colors attachments to likes and dislikes. That is what makes the study of perfumes so compelling; it is a source of discovery every time you open the bottle. You may discover happiness or despair, but it's not about which feeling you experience; it is the experience itself that counts. The magic lies in the fact that the genie is not in the perfume; it is in you.

Difficult fragrances test our memories, our notions of balance between complements and contrasts, and truly, our very souls. If we allow some space to understand what might repel us or cause confusion, we open our minds to possibility. Even if we don't fall in love with what we find strange or different, we come to terms with a different way of relating to life through our senses. This is the diamond in perfumery; or any other art for that matter.

A scent comes and goes whether it is a single molecule or a more complex structure. As human beings our bodies are not subject to the kind of volatility that aroma molecules are, but that does not give us license to squander our time in the mortal world. Whether we believe we are here only once or for many lifetimes, a life well-lived is like a well-formulated perfume. We must refine our spirit to the point that we can transcend ourselves. It’s not about conquering the world “out there”; it is about conquering the world inside so we can shape the world around us and leave this world a better place.

Trusting the Invisible
You cannot see a smell. You may see an object responsible for an aroma and be influenced by its shape and color, but evaluating a scent is dependent on the mechanics of olfaction. The brain processes odor as feelings and memories first. This is why it is difficult to come up with words to describe smells. You have to trust the invisible when you are smell something; neurologically and molecularly. We are creatures of habit that demand proof. Olfaction requires patience and a Kierkegaardian leap of faith.

Suggested Reading:
What Does Your Sense of Smell Mean to You?
The Case for the Connoisseurship of Smell 
The Magic of Smell and Taste
The Olfactory Diary: A Tool for Developing Your Sense of Smell
Smell and Tell: Olfactory Writing Workshops
Anosmia Matters: Whether You Can Smell or Not

The image that accompanies this article was created by Seymour List. The woman in the painting is his wife Mae. List is 80+ and has been married to Mae for over 50 years. List is retired and uses his computer to make art. Rights revert back to Seymour List.

The day after this post was published The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting story about the importance of smell calisthenics. You can read about it here.