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Okay. Here's the thing: Pepperidge Farm Milanos are pretty awful.
I wish I could softball this one to you. Pretend that they had something spectacular going for them. Pull out some charming tale of childhood enchantment. But even as a BraveTot, I knew better. Two dry, flavorless biscuits sandwiching some mild chocolate smear? I'd rather gnaw on two Nilla Wafers and a Tootsie roll.
Given my lack of Milanos pathos you might wonder why I chose Milanos as a Christmas cookie for Santa. Which leads me to another admission: I never believed in Santa.
I figure: what better gift to a pretend person than a plate of pretend cookies?
Santa and Milanos have equally substantiated merits. Santa supposedly rewards children for their behavior and Milanos ostensibly taste good. Both claims remain scientifically impossible to prove, but even so, people continue to believe in them because both point to something beautiful.
Santa represents the idea that the little, otherwise unacknowledged good deeds in our life count for something. That simple acts of extending kindness or mustering patience can become something more: billable hours. Santa chalks up our time over the year and, if enough of it falls into the "good" category, the guy arranges compensation. Sure, he pays in tinker toys, but I know a payoff when I see one.
Milanos, conversely, represent the prize itself. That you needn't wait for Santa, for love, your boss, or for anything to give you what you deserve. That you can take indulgence into your own hands. Tender shortbread. A hint of sweetness. The bitter whisper of chocolate. Self medication at its buttery best.
While you may never find Santa himself or the package of Milanos that will actually deliver the luxury depicted here, you can come close. To the Milanos, I mean.
At first blush, the Milano appears like the industrial equivalent of langues de chat and the most popular DIY recipe circulating treats it as just that: powdered sugar and butter creamed together, some egg whites and a few drops of lemon or orange extract for flavor. But this type of cookie tends to bake up too thin and while quite crisp, it lacks the toothsome quality of the original.
Milanos may take a visual cue from langues de chat, but they differ in some subtle but important ways. Langues de chat are made from a thin batter. Milanos sport a telltale peak on one end of each cookie, implying a batter thick enough to maintain its shape in the oven. Yet they bake up tender-crisp, not cakey. To manage this, the recipe needs a little extra fat (from an egg yolk) and a little less flour (replaced with cornstarch) than langues de chat.
The resulting cookie is a symphony of texture, whether dunked in milk, coffee, or something stronger.
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About the Author: Stella Parks suffers from an unhealthy obsession with recreating the mass produced snacks of her childhood, but ironically is employed by a Frenchman to make the high brow desserts of his childhood. She blogs that dichotomy at bravetart.com and can be followed on Twitter at @thebravetart.