Friday, February 13, 2009

A cookie is a cookie is a cookie?

Since Dorie Greenspan participated in a debate with Sara Dickerm and David Lebovitz, I have been intrigued to define what a "delicious cookie" is for me, or better, how I would answer her questions: "What defines a cookie for you? What does the perfect cookie look like? What size is it? What's its texture? What makes a cookie American?"

I am skipping on the last question and leave Americans to answer.

I have three criteria for a cookie to make it into my file of permanent recipes, execution, look, and taste. As a trained pastry chef, I can say that I can tackle almost every recipe I find, but a cookie that has too many steps will not make it unless it has a relatively easy recipe, is beautiful to look at AND tastes excellent. Checkerboard cookies are an example of a cookie with many steps, but it starts with an easy sablée recipe and not only results in beautiful cookies but the taste wins all three criteria.

"Size matters" said a character on Seinfeld, so for me a cookies has to be one or two bites. top. I normally make the cookies much smaller than the recipe calls for. Because I TRY to watch my sugar intake, a cookie has to be super tasty, not too sweet, and small so if I like it I can indulge.

Another big factor, but not a critical one, is the freezing potential of a cookie, as I love to double a recipe and keep some dough in the freezer to bake on a whim. Currently I have three cookie doughs in the freezer which tickled some women's taste buds happy on Tuesday when they sampled them at a neighborhood meeting.

Last but not least is the texture, crunchy usually wins in my world of cookies.

Here are the three stars of Tuesday night and a wish of a:

Happy Valentine's Day

From left to right: Almond Sticks with Cocoa Nibs by Alice Medrich, Korova Cookies by Dorie Greenspan (aka World Peace Cookies), and Ginger Snaps (recipe courtesy of Chez Panisse Restaurant). All three recipes are easy to make and freeze, look beautiful AND taste excellent.

Almond Sticks with Cocoa Nibs
Adapted from Bittersweet

3/4 cup whole almonds
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
3 ounces unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
¼ cup cocoa nibs

Combine the almonds, flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor, and pulse until the almonds are reduced to a fine meal. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like a mass of crumbs. Combine the water, vanilla, and almond extract, drizzle them into the processor bowl, and pulse just until the dough looks damp. Add the cocoa nibs and pulse only until evenly dispersed.

The dough will not form a smooth cohesive mass-it will be crumbly but it will come together as you press it into a 6-by 9-inch rectangle, about ½ inch thick. Wrap tight and freeze.

When ready to bake preheat the oven to 325F. Cut the dough into 3/8 inch slices and transfer onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake until golden brown, approximately 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan half way during baking. Cool completely and store in a airtight container.

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