One of the first ways people usually describe me is that I'm "not a follower". I tend to view rules and instructions as useful guidelines, not a thing that should be followed without question. While some people (my parents, my therapist, every teacher or boss I've ever had) would call this "issues with authority", I feel that, more accurately, I have no problems with authority, that authority has issues with me.
This is important to know because it's important to know that my same distaste for following rules to the letter also applies to baking. Sometimes, this turns out wonderful. Sometimes, I have leftover blackberry juice and impossible dreams. In this case, I envisioned a nutty cookie underneath and a creamy, berry-tart frosting atop it. With that in mind, I got mascarpone at Trader Joe's and slowly mixed in my blackberry juice, confident it would go well.
It did not go well.
So let's break it down where I went wrong, what I chose to do to correct it, and how you, too, can use this kind of course correction to make literally whatever you want even if you can't find exactly the right recipe for it.
The first part went pretty well. After checking that my tried and true standby Smitten Kitchen didn't have the recipe I was looking for, I googled quickly and found a Martha Stewart recipe that gave me exactly what I was looking for (a crumbly, shortbread-y nutty cookie) and it went a little something like this:
1/2 cup blanched hazelnuts
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (Note from me and not Martha Stewart: I found this to be not quite enough butter and my dough was way too dry. I would suggest more like one and a quarter sticks)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Preheat the oven to 350
Sometimes at the store you can find "hazelnut flour", or hazelnuts ground into a powder. If you can, use a half a cup of this. If you can't, make your own hazelnut flour by putting the hazelnuts in food processor. Be sure to stop when the hazelnuts turn into a powder, because if you keep going they'll turn into hazelnut butter/hazelnut paste.
In a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Then, add in all the other ingredients (nuts, flour, sugar, salt) until a wet, sandy dough forms
Make balls of dough and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. These are cookies that won't spread or change shape when baked, so make them the size and shape you want them to come out as - I made them about two inch balls flattened with the back of a fork. Bake in oven until golden-brown and crispy looking. Martha says this should only take 10 minutes, but I made mine slightly bigger than she suggested, I found it took more like 15-20.
If you like hazelnuts and no-nonsense cookies, these are great. But, and no disrespect to Martha, they're also a little plain. And maybe you don't like hazelnuts and want almond cookies instead. Or maybe you like hazelnuts but you like them better with chocolate (and who can blame you). And these cookies have a tendency to go dry and stale if you don't put them in a sealed container right away, particularly if you, like me, leave them out to cool overnight when it's humid. You might need to introduce something to them to make them moister again. This is where recipe tweaks come in.
The key to recipe tweaks is understanding what each ingredient does. In this case, it's fairly straightforward: flour is the base of the cookie, the hazelnuts add the flavor, sugar makes it sweet, salt adds some flavor depth, and the butter is the glue that holds it all together. This means you can make these into any nut cookie simply by replacing the half cup of ground hazelnuts with half a cup of ground anything else - almonds, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, pecans, etc. If you want a less sandy/dry cookie, you add more butter. If you want a sweeter or more savory cookie, you tweak the amount of sugar. If you're using a saltier nut, you might not need the pinch of salt. If you want to dress it up, you can roll in some chocolate chips. You can add spices. You can bake these and dip them in melted chocolate. Or you can do what I did and add fruit flavors.
Fruit and dairy are hard to mix together. Mascarpone is particularly hard to mix with anything, because it has a tendency to curdle, or have the dense, fatty globs clump together and separate from the liquid in the cheese if mixed too vigorously. If you gently heat that curdled mixture in a double boiler you can make these dense, fatty globs melt and re-incorporate, but you can't re-whip it without curdling it again. It's especially prone to curdling if you add in fruit juices, because fruits are full of all sorts of acids and sugars that encourage curdling rather than stabilizing the texture. This is why I would suggest either adding mascarpone plain or using jam. (Or, if you're feeling crazy, add mascarpone and then jam on top of it! No one's stopping you!) Could you buy jam to add to these cookies? Sure. But why buy when it's plum season?
It's my firm belief that the reason plums are so underrated is because most people interact with them as prunes. Prunes are disgusting. They take what's perfect about plums (crisp, crunchy flesh, their perfect balance of sweet and tart) and gets rid of them, turning them into a stodgy, blandly sticky, cloying mess. Plums are also naturally high in pectin, a fibrous starch that naturally occurs in some fruits and causes them to become spreadable and jammy when cooked down instead of turning into liquid. Other fruits that are high in pectin are citruses and grapes, which is probably why they're such common jam or marmalade flavors. Most fruits, like berries and peaches, have very little pectin, which means you either cook them down into a thick juice or have to experiment with how much pectin you add based on the fruit to get the perfect not too runny, not too stiff texture. But with plums, you don't have to bother. I could write you a plum jam recipe, but there's a million on the internet and they're all the exact same, which is this:
Take plums. Wash and quarter them, removing the pit. Put them in a saucepan.
Put the saucepan over medium heat, stirring every few minutes. Slowly, the plums will break down and turn into a gooey mixture that starts bubbling. If you're getting impatient, you can use a potato masher or big serving fork to smoosh the plums as they're softening.
When your plums are bubbling and gooey, add and stir in sugar. I did four giant plums which made about half a jar of jam with only added a quarter cup of sugar for the whole thing, and I might even add less next time. It's a matter of personal choice, but adding a lot of sugar takes away the characteristic plummy tangy tartness, which means it goes from plum territory (delicious, richly complex) and straight into prune territory (cloying, flat, gross).
Keep stirring until it looks like jam, which it now is. If you're prissy about texture you can strain out the skins, but they'll have mostly broken down at this point and it's not really necessary. Stick it in a jar and let it cool, which thickens it even more. Spread it on everything. Including cookies.
The end result is... well to be honest, I haven't come up with a great name for them. They're nutty, they're crumbly, they're sweet and tangy, and they're delicious. They would go well with vanilla ice cream (though honestly, what wouldThey are perfectn't). little morsels for a mid-day snack with tea. But if they're not your idea of perfection, ignore my directions. Make up your own. It's what I always do anyway.