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Cooking for company is one of my greatest pleasures. But when the guest list is long and my time is short, I rely on a caterer to help with the party fare. However, I always include some personal touches at these catered affairs: red pepper polenta with Italian fontina for a neighborhood Italian festival, mushroom turnovers for a holiday party, an antipasto salad for a summer lawn party and an array of my favorite miniature pastries for one of our adult children's pool party.
When I wanted to mark a milestone birthday for my husband and still have time to spend with his friends, I decided to give a dinner party in a hotel's private dining room. The hotel kitchen prepared the appetizers and main course, and I provided the dessert.
In addition to an elaborate birthday cake that combined two of my husband's favorite flavors, chocolate and vanilla, I also fashioned cigar-shaped cookies from a classic French cookie batter usually used for confectionery "cigarettes." Stacked on a large silver tray, the faux cigars had slender cellophane strips tucked into one end to simulate smoke. Similar to a fortune cookie, a narrow strip of paper with a humorous quote about aging from notables such as Miss Piggy and Bernard Baruch was inside each rolled cookie.
As part of the evening's entertainment, an artist sketched caricatures of each guest. As each portrait was finished, it was pinned to one wall of the dining room. At party's end, everyone had a souvenir to take home.
The next time you plan a catered party, here's a recipe that can add a bit of yourself to the affair.
yields 4 dozen
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Adjust rack in center of oven and heat to 425 degrees. Lightly grease non-stick baking sheets. Whip egg whites until stiff. Gradually beat in sugar. Fold in vanilla and zest. Thoroughly fold in flour, then fold in butter.
Drop batter by teaspoonful in 3 places on baking sheet. Spread with spatula into thin squares (approximately 4 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches). Bake until slightly puffed and light brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from oven, turn cookie over with spatula and quickly roll around a 1/2-inch diameter dowel or wooden handle while pliable. If cookies harden before being removed from pan, return to oven just until softened. Remove from wooden form and continue cooling on rack. Repeat with remaining batter. Store cookies in an airtight container.
Flo Braker has been teaching baking techniques and her sweet miniatures across the country for twenty years and is the author of several cookbooks.