Given the choice, I’d choose fresh berries over a slice of pie, pistachio gelato over a caramel cashew ice cream sundae, pizzelles over triple chocolate chunk cookies, a scone with jam over peanut butter-stuffed banana cupcakes covered in marshmallow cream and chocolate jimmies. Even as a child I requested the same chocolate bundt countless birthdays in a row; often to be dusted with powdered sugar.
Decadent desserts are splashed everywhere I look these days, on the Internet, TV and in print. Or maybe it only seems that way because in comparison, my personal taste is more Plain Jane than Top Chef.
For the record, I like fancy sweets. I even love them sometimes. They have their own (rather large) stack of recipes in my folder, lying in wait for an occasion that is appropriately grand.
But most of the time it’s a normal day, only the two of us, and I’m craving something I know will be great regardless of its simplicity. Take for instance these quick and easy, almost healthy, red wine (olive oil) cookies — biscuits actually, to be true to the recipe’s origins.
Perfect dippers for coffee, tea and milk. If you have it, nibble alongside a glass of sweet wine.
These not-too-sweet rings bake up dense yet soft, a texture reminiscent of unscotti The red wine imparts a unique flavor and a dainty purplish hue, while extra virgin olive oil provides that characteristic cakey interior and nicely crisped surface. Plain, but so much more.
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An overly fruity or spicy extra virgin olive oil will yield a strong flavor — stick with a milder EVOO. [Nutrition bit: no butter means a drastic cut in cholesterol and saturated fat.]
Keep your fancy wine for a special evening; inexpensive wine is just fine here. I used cooking wine once and devoured them. [Nutrition bit: The antioxidant phytochemicals found in wine -- shown to reduce risk of heart disease and certain cancers -- are heat stable, meaning the benefits remain even after baking!]
When I think a sweet baked dessert can handle it, one of my usual substitutions is healthier whole wheat pastry for all-purpose flour. Sometimes a 50:50 combination of the two, sometimes entirely whole wheat pastry. This recipe can easily handle the latter substitution.
A dash of spice — say, cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom — would add another layer of flavor.
Red (or White) Wine Biscuits [makes 16-24, depending on the size ring you make]
4 c all-purpose flour (swap in whole wheat pastry flour for some or all of the AP)
1 c granulated sugar
3 t baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 c + 1 T mild extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c + 1 T dry red wine, such as Zinfandel, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon (Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio for white wine biscuits)
Turbinado, sanding or more granulated sugar, for topping
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat.
In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add wet ingredients and stir until a soft dough forms — the mixture should clump together when you squeeze it in your hand. If it is still too dry, add a little more wine by the tablespoonful. (The mixing step is easily done by hand, but a stand mixer with the paddle attachment would make it a breeze.)
Divide the dough into small pieces, about the size of a golf ball. On a flat, unfloured surface like a cutting board or the counter top, use the palms of your hands to roll each piece into a 1/2″-thick rope. Don’t be afraid if the dough “cracks” as you roll — as long as it’s not crumbling (if it is, return to bowl and work in more wine), you can squeeze the dough rope together in your palm and then continue gently rolling. Pinch the ends of each rope together to form a ring. It might take a few meaningful pinches to get the ends to stick.
Dip one side of each biscuit in sugar, pressing gently to ensure sugar sticks, and place on the prepared pan. Bake about 15 minutes, until bottoms are golden. Cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Can be frozen in a ziploc bag or plastic container after baking, and taken from the freezer as needed. Let biscuits come to room temperature before serving.
Adapted from Broxholm Road