Stevie Nicks was clearly on to something in her 1981 hit, Leather and Lace. Not only is that song AMAZING, but it seems that she knew that these two popular materials would be around for the long haul. Since leather and its faux variations have now become pretty commonplace (hello, pleather!), lets focus on lace—a textile whose popularity was just as strong, if not stronger, in early European fashion as it is today. Today, most lace is machine-made, which I am sure is much more enjoyable and cost effective than toiling for hours to hand-stitch it yourself. However, prior to the industrial revolution, artisans had to make the delicate fabric by hand, making it very expensive, and therefore quite desirable in the costumes of the wealthy upper class. The appearance of lace accents in the costumes of portrait subjects was very common during the European Renaissance, especially in idealized portraits. Patrons paid artists big bucks to portray them artistically in their best light—confident, powerful and rich. One way to show wealth in a portrait, which by nature only shows a small aspect of the subject’s personality—their appearance, and usually shown alone—was to add ornate decorative aspects to their costumes, like lace ruff collars and sleeves.
Frans Hal’s Portrait of Pieter van den Broecke is significant not only for its beauty, and the emphasis on detail, but also because van den Broecke was a successful Dutch cloth merchant. Therefore, it makes perfect sense why the lace work is so intricate here! This design is fairly geometric in both his lace collar and cuffs, which compliments his thick, gold chain, another hint towards his wealth and success. When I first saw this painting hanging in Kenwood House, I had no idea who Pieter van den Broecke was, but I could tell instantly that he was rich and successful, just from his costume—socialites of the 21st century, are you paying attention?
Ferdinand Bol’s work of a few years later shows an anonymous lady, but we can still tell from all that lace that she was someone special. In addition to a large ruff collar with a delicate lace layer underneath, her lace cuffs also lead the viewer’s eyes to her gold bracelet and gemstone (sapphire? onyx? I have no idea!) ring, further hinting at her noble background. The work itself is pretty dark, which was typical of Bol’s teacher, Rembrandt, but the darkness also acts as a contrast to the light, fragile lace. Who says Stevie wasn’t looking at this picture on her ipad when she wrote this song 30+ years ago…? 😉
Now lets get to the cookies! Lace cookies (also called “Florentines”) are not only super easy to make, but also impressive in their delicate nature. These cookies are sure to wow your friends/co-workers/significant other/own stomach, so get ready to let the compliments roll in! I am also a firm believer that broken cookies don’t have any calories, so be prepared to eat your fill without regret, since these don’t exactly travel well. Better yet, bring them with you wherever you go, and the whole batch is guilt-free!
Salted Peanut Lace Cookies
2/3 cup unsalted, roasted peanuts
1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour (yes, you read that right!)
pinch of salt
½ cup sugar
1/8 cup half and half
2 tablespoons maple syrup
½ stick unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
flaky salt (like Maldon) to sprinkle on top
Preheat your oven to 350°F, and prepare a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Roast your peanuts if they are not already roasted. In a food processor, pulse your (completely cooled) peanuts for a few seconds, until they are all chopped, but not anywhere near turning into peanut butter—obviously that would be delicious, but we can’t do down that road today! Transfer the chopped nuts to a medium sized, metal or glass (or otherwise heat-resistant) bowl, and stir in your salt and flour.
In a small saucepan, melt your butter over medium heat. Add in the sugar, half and half and maple syrup, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches a low boil. Let boil for about a minute, then remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour over the peanut/flour/salt mixture, and stir until just combined. Let cool for about 10-15 minutes. When you return to the bowl, the mixture should actually start to resemble dough. If not, let it sit and cool a couple more minutes! Using a teaspoon, spoon out rounded teaspoon portions of the dough onto your prepared baking sheet. Be sure to leave at least 3 inches between each cookie—there is very little flour, so these cookies will not rise, they will spread! Sprinkle with a tiny bit of your flaky salt, and transfer to the hot oven for 5 minutes. After the initial 5 minutes, rotate the pan and cook 5 minutes longer. Let cool for at least 10 minutes—these cookies are FRAGILE! Repeat with the remaining batter, and enjoy!
Recipe adapted from Not Without Salt, makes about 30 cookies
Featured art: Frans Hals, Portrait of Pieter van den Broecke, 1633, oil on canvas (detail)
Ferdinand Bol, Portrait of a Lady, 1680, oil on canvas (detail)