Thursday, July 19, 2012
Our oven has been off duty for several weeks now. On some of the hotter days of this very hot summer there has been enough heat to make an omelet outside, and I did not want to generate even more of it indoors. And since many desserts invariably involve baking, they have been largely off the menu. But then I remembered a dessert that my mom and my grandmother used to make when I was little, a confection which has the texture and consistency of a cookie and requires no baking.
In Russian they're called kartoshka, which translates to small potatoes. Despite what the name might imply, potato is not one of the ingredients. They are made with crumbs, sugar, butter and cocoa which are mixed together into a sort of a paste. Instead of being baked, the mixture requires being chilled, so that it reaches the right consistency for rolling it into round baby potato shapes. Which is perhaps how these got their name.
There are many versions for making these. And this one emerged after multiple attempts. My first was with homemade breadcrumbs, because I wanted to avoid using graham crackers. My mom phoned me right when I was working on that batch, and said it would not work without crackers, that breadcrumbs would alter the texture and would be too bland in the recipe. I was stubborn so I persisted. She was right. Lesson: always listen to your mother.
Another attempt was made with solid coconut oil, which melted pitifully into a liquid as soon as I began mixing it because of the heat. The recipe calls for a solid fat. As I wrote about before, coconut is much more sensitive to heat than butter. Another lesson: sometimes you shouldn't mess with something that already works. And after several adjustments of proportions and tweaking the process I learned that for something seemingly so simple, the way and the order in which the ingredients are mixed matters. And sometimes it's as simple as using old and trusted ingredients.
As well as listening to your mom.
No-Bake Cocoa Cookie Balls
(Makes 18 to 20 1.5 inch cookies)
You will need:
7.2 oz (200 g) graham crackers (about 13 1/2 whole)
4 oz (100 g) butter, sliced into chunks
1/3 cup (90 g) sugar
1/8 cup (15 g) dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup (113 g) chopped hazelnuts, divided
2-3 tbsp soy milk
1 tsp rum (optional)
1. Using a food processor, process the crackers into crumbs (yielding about 1 1/2 cup crumbs). Add butter, and process until the butter is fully incorporated. Add sugar and cocoa and process until well blended. Scoop out into a bowl. The mixture should have a consistency of moist sand. Stir in 1/2 cup hazelnuts. Mix in soy milk and rum. Cover and refrigerate for one hour to allow the mixture to solidify slightly.
2. Scoop a small amount of the mixture with a rounded tablespoon and form it into a 1 1/2 inch ball (3.75 cm) by rolling it between the palms of your hands. Repeat with the remaining mixture. Grind the remaining 1/2 cup hazelnuts in a food processor or an electric mill and roll the balls in hazelnut crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to serve.