No Butter? No Sugar? What Gives, Martha?! – Chocolate-Almond Marsala Cookies! -267 eggs, 198 cups of sugar, 201 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 248 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 18 recipes to go!

January 8, 2012

Martha's Chocolate-Almond-Marsala Cookies

André's Chocolate-Almond-Marsala Cookies

Lumps of cat poop. That’s how my partner, Dan’s coworkers described the visual appeal of this surprisingly flavorful cookie. Not a great endorsement, but at least it’s an honest one. Martha has a tendency to include at least one ingredient in each of her recipes that no one has ever had in their pantry – ever! In this case, the elusive ingredient was candied orange peel. I searched several regular supermarkets for it and could only find orange candied chunks, you know, those gummy chunks of candy-like fruit one finds in cheap holiday fruitcake? Finally, a run to Dean & Delucca paid off. They did indeed have candied orange peel, and like everything else in Dean & Delucca, it was priced at $8.00. I’ve learned that just about everything is $8.00 at D&D.  I think perhaps that should be their new slogan- Dean & Delucca- Where everything is $8.00! 

I am, at my core, a very cheap person. Well, not really cheap. There are some things I’m willing to pay more for- coffee, for example (I’m an outspoken coffee snob). I was not prepared to pay $8.00 for a half-a-rind of an orange covered in sugar. I decided to make my own instead. The process is pretty simple. I bought three oranges for $1.00. I split them into quarters, removing the pulp. I then split the peel into long manageable strips that could lay flat on the cutting board. I then carefully laid my very sharp knife flat and slowly separated the white, bitter pith from the bright orange skin. I then cut the skin into very thin strips and placed those strips in a saucepan filled with equal parts water and sugar. Once all of the skins were in the saucepan, I turned the heat to medium high until the mixture began to boil. I then reduced temperature to a simmer and let the liquid reduce to a fourth of its volume. The aroma was terrific. The kitchen smelled of pure concentrated orange. At that point I decided to get a little crazy and did the same with a few lemons since I knew I’d need them for a future Martha recipe. My kitchen never smelled so fresh.

Once the liquid had reduced, I poured the contents into a sieve discarding the liquid and placing the orange peels into a bowl of granulated sugar. I moved the peels about, coating them thoroughly, making sure they did not stick together. I then placed the peels onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, keeping them separated. I placed the sheet into a 200 degree oven and let them dehydrate for an hour or so.  Voila! Candied orange and lemon peel. I made enough to take me through quite a few holiday seasons. Not only that, the homemade candied peels are of a higher quality than anything you could buy at the store and can be eaten and enjoyed in baked goods or as is. Best of all, I was able to make what would have amounted to thirty-four-dollar’s worth of candied citrus peel at D&D for less than two bucks.

Martha’s Chocolate-Almond Marsala Cookies are a dense and crisp cookie, not unlike biscotti. It primarily tastes of citrus from the candied orange peel and the shot of Marsala wine with almond and chocolate in a supporting role. Marsala is a region around Sicily that produces this wine. It is similar to port as it is fortified. When Marsala and Port were first created, alcohol was added to the fermented grape juice so that it could survive lengthy export trade routes. Many developed a taste for these stronger, sweeter wines and thus, the Marsala and Port industries were born.

The unique feature of these cookies is their lack of butter and sugar from their list of ingredients. The cookies are sweetened by the wine, the orange peel, the semi-sweet chocolate morsels and just a touch of honey. The dry ingredients are bound together by egg and while the end result is not an attractive cookie, it is delicious, although not very sweet.

I baked these for my partner, Dan to bring to his coworkers where they were enjoyed and renamed, “Cat Poop Cookies,” since that’s pretty much what they resemble. Next time I bake them, I’m serving them in a clean litter box.

It’s been a while since I last sat down to write a post. I apologize. As I mentioned in my last post, my workplace needed me to take a six-month assignment in Bloomington, Indiana. The day after New Years I set out in my rental car after tearfully saying my goodbyes to Dan and the kitties. I set the cruise control to the legal speed limit (I put that in just in case any of my superiors at work are reading this)  and coasted down I-70 towards Indiana. Everything was fine and I made terrific time until I reached the Illinois/Indiana State line. I was greeted by a sudden and thick snow flurry. The semi truck twelve cars ahead of me swerved and jackknifed when he hit a particularly icy part of the interstate. I sat in line with the snow pouring down for the better part of an hour, moving only inches at a time. I finally was able to pass the wreckage and take my exit which was completely iced over. What should have been the last hour of my journey took nearly three as I passed wreckage after wreckage. The roads were terribly slick and I could only maintain a speed of thirty m.p.h. or less.  With ten miles left before I reached Bloomington, the snow pouring down and the light dimming as twilight approached, I was greeted by a road block. A State trooper was turning all incoming traffic around. He informed us there was an impassible, multi-car accident ahead and that we’d have to bypass it by taking the barely-paved farm road. One-by-one, we slowly made a U-turn and headed onto the narrow and bumpy farm road which led  to a long, narrow, rickety, one-lane, wooden bridge. I gripped the wheel tightly, my heart was pounding. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I hate to drive, particularly in the snow… and in the dark… on an unfamiliar road… over a dilapidated bridge…  in the middle of nowhere. I began to worry if this were all some sort of omen. Would this be a prelude to what Bloomington had in store for me?

Did I mention I really needed to pee through this whole ordeal?

I was finally able to get on the main road which was just a hop, skip and a jump to my hotel. I parked, ran past the lobby desk, yelling over my shoulder to the clerk telling him I was checking in, while jogging towards the bathroom, which of course, was occupied. I then ran over to the dinner service area where I poured myself a large glass of wine which I gulped in hopes it would calm my nerves. It did. So I had another.

That evening, after finally being able to pee, check in, unpack my few belongings, call Dan to tearfully tell him I arrived and how much I already missed him, after all of that I changed into my pajamas and laid restlessly on the ridiculously large, king bed. Sleeping alone in a king bed only compounds ones feelings of loneliness. I looked about, scanning the taupe walls, the taupe carpeted floors, the dark wood furniture,  and thought to myself- This is your new home now. Better start liking it soon. And you’d better fall in love with the color taupe.

I don’t remember making a conscious effort to fall asleep. I do remember listening to the telephone conversation through the thin wall behind the headboard. It was a man speaking with his wife. Every word was clear as day.

“Yes, honey…  I’ll call you in the morning…  Kiss the kids for me…  I’ll be home in just a few weeks… Yes, honey. I miss you, too… Wish I were there, too…  Love you, too.”

As I drifted off, the tension of the day lifted in a cloud of wine-soaked exhaustion. I thought about the man on the other side of the wall. I thought about all the other souls in the hotel, and how so many of us were not necessarily where we wanted to be, but where we needed to be.

The self-pity and angst I had been feeling all day dissipated and when I opened my eyes again, it was morning and I was living in Bloomington.

I’m glad to be writing these posts again. Its been a week now in my little hotel room. I won’t be baking cookies while I’m here since my kitchenette does not have an oven. In preparation for this, I baked many of Martha’s recipes before I left, giving me plenty to write about while here in B-town.

So until I post again, Happy New Year!


Don’t even think about calling me a Hoosier. (What the hell is a Hoosier anyway?)


4 Responses to “No Butter? No Sugar? What Gives, Martha?! – Chocolate-Almond Marsala Cookies! -267 eggs, 198 cups of sugar, 201 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 248 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 18 recipes to go!”

  1. Becky Jones Says:

    Andre, When you next make the Cat Poop Cookies, be sure you line the litter box first with oats for the litter : )

  2. Jenny German Says:

    Oh Andre- I am so, so happy you are back w/ your column. It has been a long dry spell w/o your recipes and your reflections. I hope you had a successful trip and made Hallmark understand they cannot possibly run the plant w/o you. I just adore you. jg

    • Jenny- I’m getting back into the swing of things and will be posting regularly again. I am here in Bloomington for six months and so I’ll be writing, although not baking, from here. Happy New Year

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