When we come to dress the salad, mum and I are always very frugal with olive oil, perhaps because we are on a diet year after year, while my dad is extremely generous with seasoning. When mum and I point this out very politely (hit by the fact that despite this love for seasoning he doesn’t need to control his diet and has the physique of a young man), he replies saying that olive oil is good and healthy. And we are silenced.
The fact is that dad is right, olive oil (and when I say olive oil I always mean high quality extra virgin olive oil) is good, it has scientifically proven antioxidant and anticancer effects and it is the basis of the Mediterranean diet, recognized as part of the Intangible Heritage List by the UNESCO.
A few weeks ago I took part to a class held by Luca Montersino – the most famous Italian pastry chef – on the use olive oil in confectionery. I was stuck by his professionalism, friendliness and courtesy. So, after a first attempt with olive oil cookies, I decided to give a chance to the special technique I learnt from Montersino, and this is result. A result that exceeded all expectations.
[NOTES – HOW TO USE OLIVE OIL INSTEAD OF BUTTER IN CONFECTIONERY]*
Let’s start from the composition of the two elements. The olive oil is 99.9% fat while the butter is made of 83% of fat and the remaining percentage is buttermilk. Hence the basic assumption: never replace the butter with an equal weight of olive oil, you must always take into account the percentage of water present into the butter. To do the math, then:
100 g of butter are equal to 83 f of olive oil and 17 g of water
The second point to consider is related to the consistency of the two fats. Visible to the naked eye, the butter is solid and the olive oil is liquid: a brilliant but obvious conclusion, isn’t it? Though, consider we’re talking about confectionery, not general cooking. You need technique and chemistry more than instinct, so the consistency is a key variable to assess. It is therefore necessary to firm up the olive oil, as to replace the butter consistency. Montersino listed some possibilities, including the use of cocoa butter, a noble fat.
The easiest method – the one we can reproduce even being ordinary people with an ordinary kitchen and an ordinary pantry – is mayonnaise. I rubbed my eyes when I saw Montersino making mayonnaise, but it is a brilliant idea in its simplicity and effectiveness. Olive oil, water and eggs are emulsified together with an immersion blender following the mayonnaise procedure. In short, the egg yolks are stolen from the recipe and are emulsified with olive oil and water, used to replace what is missing from the butter. What you get, though, is a semi-solid fat, suitable for many recipes such as pastry and shortbread, but not to be used for puff pastry.
* Please take these just as personal notes and not as sturdy truth. This is what I have saved from Luca Montersino’s class. Using this technique in short crust cookies has given extremely good results, therefore I’m sharing my notes with you!
OLIVE OIL COOKIES WITH A SUBTLE LEMON SCENT
Ingredients for 60ish cookies:
- 330 g plain flour
- 200 g rice flour
- 200 g caster sugar
- grated peel of 1 lemon
- 1 g vanilla salt
- 250 g light extra virgin olive oil
- 50 g water
- 80 g egg yolks
Sieve the flour and put it on a working surface, make a well in the middle and add the sugar, the salt, the grated peel of one lemon and the seeds of half of a vanilla pod.
Pour the egg yolks and the water into your immersion blender container. Put the hand blender to the very bottom of the container, start pouring the olive oil in a thin stream and blend until it thickens into mayonnaise (it is a matter of just a few minutes).
Pour the mayonnaise into the centre of the flour and mix it with the sugar using your fingers to make a soft dough. When it is totally mixed, rub all the ingredients with your fingertips and make crumbles, then start kneading until you have a nice and smooth ball of dough. Roll it out roughly between two foils of parchment paper and place it in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 175°C. Take the shortcrust pastry out of the fridge, unwrap it and roll the dough out to 5 mm thick and cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters. I chose to cut out simple rectangular cookies. Place the cookies on a baking tin lined with previously greased parchment paper. Prick the cookies with a fork.
Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, until slightly golden. As soon as you remove them from the oven, they are still quite soft, so allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
How to store them. Store the cookies in an airtight container with a vanilla pod (no need to use a new one, you can use an already opened vanilla pod, it will have a persistent scent as well). You can keep the cookies crisp for about a week, greedy thieves permitting.
Tasting test. My friends’ remark would be enough to describe them: “Hmmmmm, go figure how much butter there’s inside a cookie!” The tasting test was completely overcome, there was no perceptible trace of the olive oil but a subtle fruity scent that suited harmonically with the citrus flavour. This match makes the cookies fresh both for the nose and the palate. The afternoon break comes to a new life if you serve these lemon olive oil cookies with a floral green tea.