Jul 13, 2009

Cats’ Tongues

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You know what drives me crazy? When I go to a restaurant and try to order dessert and the whole pastry menu is full of savory. I mean, I appreciate a dessert menu that has more than the


options of flourless chocolate cake, some form of apple tart and a selection of gelatos. But a polenta olive oil cake with rosemary ice cream? Really? I already had dinner! I’d rather just have a Snickers bar and call it a night.

Dessert should be dessert, people. It should not be confused with other courses or meals from other parts of the day. Another example: no matter what nutritionists in womens’ magazines say, a dish of plain fruitis not sufficient for dessert. It is breakfast. I think I heard Ina Garten say once that no one remembers what you serve for dinner, but everyone remembers dessert. And if all I get is a plate of strawberries, then I am definitely remembering the time I got so depressed at the end of a meal that I stopped speaking entirely. This is just the way I usually feel. Unless–unless!!–said fruit is accompanied by a pile of etheral cookies like Cats’ Tongues. Bring on the fruit salad, sister!

This recipe comes from The Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook, and you know Alice Waters is all about fruit for dessert. But in the recipe notes for Cats’ Tongues, she mentions how she could eat an entire platter of them with a fresh peach. There ya go, Alice! I knew you had it in you, girlfriend. It was my first clue that these cookies were really something special.

It’s almost a misnomer to call these beauties “cookies”. They’re really more of a wafer, so thin and delicate they practically melt in your mouth as soon as they shatter between your teeth. The hit of almond extract and spark of ginger makes them a beautiful accompaniment to seasonal fruits of all kinds. When shaped as directed in the recipe, they really do resemble the thin curve of a cat’s tongue. Well, some of mine came out looking like that, but some in the batch also came out looking just like potato chips. And I couldn’t help but think of how awesome it would be to have a bowl full of “cookie chips” and just watch Oprah or something, definitely without fruit. But I digress.

The batter for Cats’ Tongues comes together swiftly–it’s the shaping that takes some doing. The batter needs to be spread thin in on a sheet pan with an offset spatula or the back of a teaspoon, and precision counts to achieve even baking.

I found the easiest way to get some consistency in the size and impressive thinness of the cookies was to first pipe Hershey’s Kiss-size dabs of batter (or thereabouts–you can make them whatever size and shape you want) onto the baking sheet, then spread the batter into wafer-thin submission with a spoon and a little flick of the wrist. (Tip: if you use Silpat liners, it’s extra easy to scrape up your mistakes and re-form the cookies while you get the hang of it–as if I need to give you another reason to buy Silpat if you haven’t already).

When the cookies go into the oven to bake, watch them like a hawk. Once they begin to brown at the edges, the rest of the cookie will brown all over so quickly your head with snap back (sort of an exaggeration, but just watch them closely, okay?). Pull them from the oven and immediately begin delicately pulling the cookies from the sheet and forming them into some kind of interesting curved shape that appeals to you, twist them at both ends, or drape them over a wooden spoon handle or even the grates of your cooling rack.

If you make them really big, you can even drape the warm cookies over inverted custard cups or something similar, and form them into adorable edible vessels for serving a bowl of berries that even I might actually call dessert.

Cats’ Tongues

Adapted from The Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook

Watch the cookies carefully during baking after about the 6 minute mark. If you let the cookies get too brown all over before pulling them from the oven they won’t be as malleable; whereas if you pull them out a wee bit too soon, and you can’t form them all quickly enough before they start to cool and harden, you can pop them back into the oven for a moment without worrying about them over-browning.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

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

In a medium bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg whites, then fold in the flour. Beat in the salt, vanilla, almond extract and ginger until the batter is perfectly smooth.

Scrape the batter into a piping bag fitted with a large round tip or plastic food storage bag (snip the corner of the bag with scissors after filling). Pipe the batter onto the lined baking sheets into whatever portion size you desire. Spread the batter very thinly with a vertical swipe using the back of a teaspoon or a small offset spatula. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown. While the cookies are still warm, twist and curve them into whimsical shapes before setting them on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

  • Those are great shots, Shauna. What sort of camera do you use?

  • Thanks so much! I am shocked and flattered by the compliment–I have a Sony DSC-H7, basically a glorified point and shoot. It's a nice camera, but by no means the DSLR of my dreams. Thanks again.

  • No prob. A SLR is still just a point-and-shoot if you don't at least know how set the scene and lighting.

    After taking some few shots for Jen's blog a few years ago, I definitely developed a good understanding of how difficult it can be to get things just right.

    Keep on doing just what you're doing. It works well!

  • I'm so glad you've posted about this recipe. I've been eyeing it for years but still haven't made it. I think it's time!

  • I just couldn't get the shape Shauna 🙁 I mean it just wouldn't drag uniformly. I checked to see if it was lumpy but that wasn't the case. Should I beat it a little more?

  • Mishti–A few thoughts: What was the consistency of your batter? This recipe should create one that's like a thick cake batter. Was it thinner than that?

    Also, did you use room temperature butter and thoroughly cream the butter and sugar until it was truly light in color and fluffy, almost like frosting? Sometimes that can take up to 2 or 3 minutes. Also, in almost every baking recipe, having everything at room temp will make for a smooth, even batter–eggs too. I wouldn't work the batter any longer than it takes just for it to be smooth after the flour is added. Also, how did you measure your flour? Let me know! We will get to the bottom of this! I hope you will try it again and report back.

  • "We will get to the bottom of this."
    That just made my day 🙂

    Yes, I had kept the butter and eggs out so that they would be at room temperature. I'm going to do this once I go back home in a couple of hours again.

    You know, I'd seen the other shape that people normally use – dragging the batter in one long stick, but somehow to me, it's not the same as having a nice wafer thin curve. I know it tastes the same, but the shape you've suggested is so much prettier! 😮

  • Hey Shauna!

    So I made them again… and of course shared it with more people and everyone loved loved loved them. But the shape problem persists. Could it be the sugar? Maybe if I use castor sugar instead of granulated?

    About measurements, I had gotten a set of red Ikea measuring spoons and I have no idea what the big cup like thing is for. It didn't look like 1 cup to me so I went to a baking store here and the saleswoman convinced me to get the Wilton's Twist n Measure or whatever that thing is called. That's what I used to measure the flour.

    Also, Shauna… I love your blog because the lovely photos are not routed through Flickr, which for no sane reason is banned here in Dubai. It is ridiculous! In a lot of sites, I don't get to see the lovely images and really are useful for someone new to baking. Thanks girl, you rock!

  • Uh…ooops, did I ever mention that Mishti is the shorter version of my real name, Sharmishtha.

    I made these again today, and the shape seems to be improving. 🙂

  • Can this be doubled for a bigger batch, or it's safer to do it in batches?

  • I totally agree with you on the dessert issue. Why are people pushing such savory desserts lately? Craziness. I must try making these little guys.

  • ey the easy in that you prepare this leave me with a question, this could be eat alone or can be eaten with something more? I mean is made for eat as snack or as dessert?

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