Ladyfingers. I've always thought this was an odd name for a cookie. If I let my imagination run free, I can see the resemblance (well, maybe). If I had it my way, however, I wouldn't equate delicate desserts with eating a woman's digits. Even so, depending on the part of the world you live in, these little cookies go by other names, such as sponge, savoy, savoiardi, and, my personal favorite, boudoir cookies.

Though the cookie has many names, the result is always the same.

Ladyfingers are an old cookie, born out of the traditions of the eleventh century. The fact that this little cookie stood the test of time for nine hundred years earns my deepest respect. Despite the long history, the cookie has evolved very little in that time. In the fifteenth century, ladyfingers were often given as gifts to the visitors of France. Rumor has it that when Czar Peter the Great of Russia and his wife Catherine came to visit, Catherine fell so hard for these cookies that she bought the baker and sent him back to her home in Russia.

It makes me wonder just how many ladyfingers that poor baker must have made (and how many Catherine must have eaten).

I do have a word to the wise to share if you want to bake these cookies. The batter is easy and straightforward to make, but the dough can be a bit persnickety, especially when it comes to temperature. If the room is hot and humid, the lady fingers have a tendency to spread out on the baking sheet, turning the look of the delicate ladyfingers into those from a large man's hand. I may speak from experience.

While still delicious, the look is a little less than desirable.

However, the problem is an easy one to avoid. Chilling the baking sheet before piping will prevent the ladyfingers from spreading due to the warmth of a summer day (or the heat from the oven).

Ladyfingers are light and airy, just as a sponge cake, with a weight that is light as a feather. Fresh from the oven, the lightly sweetened cookies are soft and the bottoms are just ever so crisp. Ladyfingers are individually lovely, but they taste just as well with a side of fresh fruit or a dollop of whipped cream. Incredibly absorbent, ladyfingers are also used in more complex desserts, such as tiramisu or trifles.

One Year Ago: Raspberry Swirled Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream

Adapted from Joy of Baking

Yields about 2-3 dozen

3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup cake flour, sifted
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons sugar until pale yellow and thick, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract. Sprinkle the mixture with the sifted cake flour (this is one of the rare occasions when sifted flour is necessary for a light and delicate finished product). Do not stir. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat together the egg whites with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the rest of the batter, mixing until just incorporated. Fill a pastry bag with the batter and fit with a round 1/2-inch tip (a large plastic bag with the corner cut off will also work). Pipe the batter into lines 3-inches long, keeping a good inch between the cookies on the baking sheet (in the pictures above, I piped 4-inch lines for a special project). If the room is hot and humid, chill the baking sheet before piping; it will prevent the ladyfingers from spreading too much due to the heat.

Sprinkle the cookies lightly with powdered sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges are barely browned and the cookies spring back when touched. Remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes before transferring the cookies to a cooling rack. The cookies will stick to the parchment if allowed to cool on it. Serve immediately.

Ladyfingers do stale quickly, so it's best to store them in an airtight container in the freezer to keep for another day. A few minutes at room temperature is all it takes for them to unthaw.