When I was growing up, my parents frequently invited friends and family over for "coffee and..." This was shorthand for "come by for a casual cup of coffee and a piece of cake." Of course, this was predicated on the fact that my mother had baked something warm and wonderful during the day, and my prodding her to invite people over to enjoy it. A little while later, the house would be full of laughing, happy adults catching up on each other's lives over "coffee and." Sadly, I think this quaint custom has been forgotten. The simple art of just getting together on a casual basis has become a major production. We are all so busy that the thought, heaven forbid, of dropping by someone's house unannounced to visit is considered an imposition. But I actually think this casual setting may be a terrific alternative to the fuss and preparation of a formal dinner. I experienced this first-hand today.
Earlier in the week, we had invited a friend for Sunday dinner. As she was at the tail-end of a cold, she declined dinner but still wanted to come by to visit. I invited her for coffee and seized the opportunity to try a new cookie recipe. I wanted something light as this was a mid-afternoon visit. And, of course, I wanted something easy so as not to take up my whole weekend. David Leibovitz and Flo Braker to the rescue. Pain d'amande are deliciously crisp, thin, almond cookies that are a snap to make. I served them with some sweet green grapes, and a French press pot of Kuta coffee from CounterCulture.
The doors and windows were open on this warm spring day blowing a light breeze through the house. We sat, we talked, we laughed, we noshed. It was relaxed and unhurried.
I propose that we revive the "coffee and" tradition. For all you bakers out there, it's really the perfect excuse to whip up a tried and true item from your trusty catalog, or even try something new. If you're not particularly adept at baking, seek out a top-notch bakery in your area or pick up something at Whole Foods' terrific bakery.
The nice thing about the Pain d'amande is that you can freeze the dough for up to two months, so you'll be ready at a moment's notice when those friends drop by unannounced, and you wouldn't have it any other way. Get the coffee ready, I'll be over.
Pain d'amande - via David Leibovitz and Flo Braker
8 TB butter, salted or unsalted, cubed
1-1/3 C coarse crystal golden sugar (Demerara sugar is available in supermarkets, specialty food stores, natural food stores, or online)
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/3 C water
2-1/3 C flour
1/4 t baking soda
1 C sliced almonds, blanched or unblanched
1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat with the sugar, cinnamon, and water. Stir until the butter just melts but don't allow to boil: most of the sugar should not be dissolved.
2. Remove from heat and stir in the flour, baking soda, and almonds until well mixed.
3. Line a 9-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap and press the dough into the pan so the top is smooth. Chill until firm.
4. To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
5. Using a very sharp chef's knife, slice the dough crosswise, as thin as possible into rectangles. If you can get them as thin as a coin, all the better. The thinner they are, the more delicate and crisp they'll be.
6. Space the cookies on parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the cookies feel slightly firm and the undersides are golden brown. Flip the cookies over and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, until the cookies are crisp and deep golden-brown on top. The baking time depends on how thin you cut the cookies. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container until ready to serve.
Storage: once baked, the cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days. The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days, or frozen for up to two months, if well-wrapped.