I've got France on my mind.
Maybe it's because my little sister is living in Paris right now, and I'm thinking about my own semester abroad, way back in the day. I lived in the city of Nancy, in the northeastern part of the country, and attended classes at the Université de Nancy 2. Why the 2? Beats me.
It was a strange spring. Wonderful, but strange. My classmates were French, yes, but I also became close with a group of foreigners, and we'd hang out in large packs and yammer away in our American-, or Danish-, or Portuguese-inflected accents. We were quite the motley crew, but not in a heavy metal way.
As a philosophy major, I had to do things like study Kant in French, which tickled me because it was beyond impossible. My professors must have taken pity on me because I was the only non-native speaker in those classes, and even though my French was quite good I have a hard time believing that my essays on La Critique de la Raison Pure made any sense whatsoever. At the end of the semester, I had an oral exam, and I must have sounded like, "Well, yes, Kant, he says that transcendental realism is about how space and time and a priori knowledge and so that is yes. Merci beaucoup."
Somehow, I passed.
Anyway, I'd take the bus home after class, and as I'd walk from the bus stop toward my street I'd pass a little bakery and mosey in, daily, for a baguette. I didn't get all crazy with the croissants and the religieuses and the pains au chocolat because I lived in France, see, and if you live there you think, "Well, if I were visiting, I would definitely get the pain au chocolat, but as I live here, and am essentially French, I really I should just get a plain baguette."
And so I did.
Now if I got home before my host "family" (a whole other story for another time, preferably in the presence of wine), I'd invariably settle in at the small kitchen table and begin eyeing the cabinet to the right of the fridge. I'd tear off the corner of the baguette, munch it slowly, then step up and do what I did pretty much every day while I lived in that beautiful city in that beautiful country with that quirky family who -- let it be said -- didn't like me all that much.
I'd grab hold of the Nutella jar. With a surgeon's precision, I'd use my knife to v-e-r-y carefully scoop out just a little, smoothing over the spot I'd defiled so they wouldn't notice any missing. And with that single stroke of chocolate on my baguette, the struggles of the day, be they linguistic or social or philosophical, would simply melt away.
Vive la France, I'd think. Vive la France.
Recipe for Nutella-Filled Nutmeg Molasses Sandwich Cookies
These little spice cookies are perfectly lovely on their own, but with a thick smear of Nutella they're sublime. I like to use a really tiny scoop (1" diameter) to portion out the dough. If you want to experiment with a different filling, try mascarpone-sugar-lemon zest-cream, a genius idea proposed by my Nutella-loathing friend Lisa. I made a few that way, too, and I offer my firm seal of approval.
Yields 80+ small sandwich cookies
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (tip: coat your measuring cup with nonstick spray before adding molasses)
Seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean
Demerara or other coarse sugar, recommended but optional
Nutella, for filling
Preheat the oven to 375. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment.
In a large bowl, whisk together the two flours, soda, nutmeg, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and creamy. Add the egg, and beat for 1 minute longer. Beat in the molasses and vanilla seeds, and continue beating on medium high until the mixture comes together. (It will look separated at first; just keep beating.) Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the dry ingredients.
Portion the dough using a 1" scoop, about 20 scoops per baking sheet. Press each one lightly with your index finger, and sprinkle with demerara sugar, if using.
Bake for about 6 minutes, until cookies flatten and begin to get slightly darker.
Cool on a rack. Repeat with remaining dough, or refrigerate unused dough for up to a week, baking them off when you like.
To make sandwiches, press two cookies together, with a layer of Nutella smeared thickly between them.