Do you know what a cookie exchange party is? A cookie exchange party is a get together hosted by a cookie lover for other similarly minded cookie lovers. Everyone who comes to the party brings cookies with them, either ones they have themselves baked, or as a last resort cookies they have bought, because you do not go to this party empty handed. Once everyone has enjoyed the tea and themselves (but not the cookies), all the cookies that came to the party are divided and packed every guest takes home a cookie bag!
Great idea for a party, don’t you think? You make a large batch of one type of cookie, take them with you, have a great time meeting your friends for tea, and then come back home with a stash of a variety of cookies they baked for all of you!
Well, I had no idea what a cookie exchange was till about a year ago when Robin Olson wrote to me. She told me she was writing a book on hosting cookie exchanges and wanted to know if I was willing to have my Ghorayebah (Arabic Cardamom Shortbread Cookies) recipe included in her book. That’s when I checked out “cookie exchanges” and found that Robin was a pioneer in the field.
To cut a long story short, I agreed and Robin added my cookies to her book. Her book, The Cookie Party Cookbook: The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Cookie Exchange was published last month and you can find my recipe on pages 188-189 of her book. I just got my copy of the book and am looking forward to trying out some of the cookies in it. If you would like to host your own cookie exchange parties then Robin provides a wealth of information about how to plan and organise one and even provides ideas for party themes, invites, 25 sample tea-time menus, fun activities, prizes and favours.
If you’re not interested in any of these activities but are a cookie lover, her book has a great collection of 176 cookie recipes including classics like Chocolate Chip Cookies and Snickerdoodles, Christmas cookies like Peppermint Pinwheels and Chocolate Reindeer Cookies, bars, tartlets, turtles and a variety of cookies from around the world. Each recipe is also marked for degree of difficulty and whether it is an everyday cookie or a holiday cookie.
While some of the recipes are Robin’s and those inherited from her mother-in-law, many of them are recipes from cookie bakers around the world. I thought I would experiment with the Viennese Chocolate Fingers (page 147 of the book) contributed by Iris Grundler of Gaithersburg. What made them particularly attractive to me was the chocolate in them and that these are eggless cookies too.
It was also the perfect chance to put to use a set of measuring cups and spoons that Robin was so sweet to send to me. There’s a small story behind this. I am a person who has cooked and baked all the recipes on my blog using my own measuring cups (which are actually old coffee mugs; you can find the volume measurements I use at the bottom of this page), which follows the ASM system. In case you are wondering, that’s Aparna’s Standard Measure!
While this might seem unscientific to some, I believe that most recipes are not sacrosanct in their ingredient measurements. In my experience, with some exceptions, most ingredients in recipes are usually in proportion to one another. People have been cooking for generations and in the good old days they didn’t have standardised measuring cups and spoons or weighing scales, yet the turned out consistently excellent food!
So when Robin first asked for my recipe, there was a bit of a confusion regarding ingredient quantities. My measuring cups and spoons were not standard American size! She managed to convert my recipe to her requirements, and also promised to send me some standard American measuring cups and spoons which she did.
Since I started blogging, I have acquired a digital weighing scale which I have to confess I don’t use very much. Measuring cups are more my thing. In case you’re wondering, I also do not possess a candy thermometer but am reasonably adept at using the Cold Water Candy Test, which I learnt watching my grandmother and mother in the kitchen, to test sugar syrups.
Back to the Viennese Chocolate Fingers. I don’t get self-raising sugar here so used 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 1/2 tsp baking powder. I found the dough a bit thick so I added 3 tbsp milk to get it to a softer consistency. The dough needs to be quite soft, but not a batter, so that you can pipe it out, yet if it is too soft, the hallmark ridges of Viennese cookies will not hold shape.
Piping out the dough can be a bit of a strain on the hands. I would also suggest you use a sturdy piping bag and a pastry nozzle. I initially used one of those Chinese made disposable piping bags (that’s what I get here), and for the first time in my experience, the bag burst! I had to remove the dough and put it into one of my re-usable pastry bags.
The recipe is for fingers, but you can make them any shape you wish. So while I didn’t get down to the traditional “W”, I also piped some cookie sized circles and “S” swirls. My Viennese fingers/ cookies/ swirls were not too buttery, crisp but somewhat cake-like in the centre. These cookies are quite nice (they are dipped in chocolate!), but I think I might need to work on my Viennese cookie skills a bit more.