If you were lucky, when you were young there was a parent or family member, a caregiver or teacher, who instilled in you a love of tasting and experimenting in the kitchen. If you were especially lucky, you had people in your life that didn’t just like to cook, but baked, too. The measuring and stirring done by young hands can become a rhythm in later life, a refuge in hard times and an expression of joy in good ones.
This sort of passing on of knowledge fell out of fashion for a generation or two in large swaths of North America, so you might find you’re one of the many who must teach themselves the skills they need in the kitchen, or at least find some good teachers.
The good news is that you’re not alone. Dorie Greenspan taught herself to bake when she was a young woman and she found many good teachers along the way. I suspect that’s why she’s become such a good teacher herself. When you read the instructions in her recipes, it’s as though she’s standing beside you, pointing out the change in the feel of a dough that indicates it’s ready, or showing you a trick to help you make the perfect roll of cookie dough. This steadiness in her instructions makes it possible to accomplish complicated feats in the kitchen, but it also helps to make staple recipes part of the rhythm of your own kitchen style.
I was first introduced to Dorie’s cookbooks when I joined French Fridays with Dorie, which cooked and baked through her book, Around My French Table. I can make staples like her tart dough without reference to a recipe, and I apply many of her techniques to the recipes I encounter elsewhere. Just today I was making citrus scones and, unbidden by the recipe, took the time to rub the orange zest into the sugar before proceeding. I’ve done so since Dorie introduced me to the trick – it helps to distribute citrus oil evenly and deliciously through the baked good. Even though I was lucky enough to have fantastic bakers and cooks who guided me in my childhood, I’ve been very glad to find a talented teacher like Dorie through her books. My cooking and baking are all the better and more pleasurable for it.
None of this might seem relevant to cookies, which are often seen as the simplest of baked goods. But, simple recipes benefit from good technique and helpful tricks, while more complicated cookies like macarons need a sure guide to keep the novice from disaster.
And her instructions might not be the first thing on your mind when you page through Dorie’s Cookies. There are more than 160 recipes in the book – many more if you include the variations. There are cookie jar cookies and holiday tray cookies, high tea cookies and savoury cocktail cookies, bake sale snack bars and indulgent squares. Some of her recipes are the very best version she’s found of a classic, others are beautifully realized experiments in flavour or form. There are classically American cookies and unabashedly French ones, just as you’d expect from a baker who splits her time between the two countries, but other recipes reflect the global flavours that run through the contemporary cultures of both places.
Her cookie recipes are complemented by the recipes in her “go-alongs and basics” chapter. Along with fillings, toppings, and accompaniments, this chapter includes the two recipes that I think I’ll be baking from memory before long – Dorie’s Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla and Chocolate cookie doughs. Each of the doughs has four associated recipes in the book, but Dorie encourages bakers to take them in any direction they’d like. One baker I’ve seen on Instagram has even combined them for a lovely two-toned effect, using cookie cutter cut outs.
You can see my first try with her chocolate version at the top of this post. I made a half-batch of the recipe and topped the rounds with the almond meringue from her Chocolate-Cranberry and Almond Cookies. I was out of cranberries, so I added a little cardamom to the meringue. The dough is easy to work with and bakes into a perfect wafer.
Almost as perfect a wafer as the one I baked for her Chocolate Crème Sandwiches, now dubbed the “Dorieo” on social media. I like them better than the commercial cookie and this dough is another that is easy to put together and work with. I made a slightly more adult version of the filling, using Irish Cream in place of the vanilla and do not regret it at all.
Nor do I regret revisiting Dorie’s almond meringue topping when I made her Swedish Visiting Cake Bars. This meringue is usually seen on fruit tarts, but I love the way Dorie has adapted it to cookies. The chewy almond cake base is thin, to maximize the cake-meringue ratio. The contrast in texture and the double-almond flavour made this a hit. They didn’t last long.
The book is full of clever flavour mash ups like this one or the Honey-Blue Cheese Madeleines in the savoury “cocktail cookies” chapter. There are also techniques that you’ll be surprised you lived without. My favourite in this book is her substitution of muffin tins for baking rings. Many of the cookies from Dorie’s famed beurre & sel cookie collection can be baked using this method. It gives the cookies a very slightly slanted edge (at least in my muffin tins), a surprisingly sophisticated finish from such a humble kitchen tool.
It worked beautifully for me when I made Dorie’s Double-Ginger Molasses Cookies. They looked like tiny, perfect bakery bites. This dough doesn’t even have to be rolled out. It’s formed into balls, as a typical ginger snap would be, rolled in sugar, then pressed into muffin cups with the bottom of a glass. It’s an extra step that doesn’t take much time, but creates a lovely effect.
I’ve received permission to share this recipe with you, so you can try this technique for yourself. You’ll be rewarded with a cookie that is much richer than a ginger snap. The addition of crystallized ginger, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, and instant espresso intensify its spiciness, without creating competing flavours. They’ll be showing up again in my home before the holiday season is through.
Double-Ginger Molasses Cookies
I have my friend Christine Beck, who is, like me, a Paris part-timer, to thank for this recipe. The cookies belong to the chewy-molasses-cookie family, but they have so much flavor and so many surprises that they transcend the familiar. For starters, there’s both crystallized ginger and powdered ginger, lots of chopped dark chocolate and an optional bit of instant espresso too, which I tacked onto the recipe because I’m an incorrigible tinkerer. I also tinkered with the way these are baked. Classic molasses cookies are scooped, molded into balls, rolled in sugar and then pressed with a fork before baking, and you can make these cookies that way. Or you can do what I do: Mold them in muffin tins, which turn out more uniformly shaped cookies that teeter on the brink of becoming gingerbread cakes.
A word on crystallized ginger: Crystallized, or candied, ginger is sliced fresh ginger that is cooked in syrup, dredged in sugar and dried. You can usually find it in the supermarket alongside other dried fruits or in the spice section. If the ginger isn’t moist and pliable, steam it before using: Put it in a strainer over a saucepan of simmering water, cover and let warm and soften for about 5 minutes; pat dry, chop and use. If you can’t find crystallized ginger, you can omit it or mix 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger with 2 teaspoons sugar and let stand for about 10 minutes, until the ginger is syrupy.
Makes about 36 cookies
- 2¼ cups (306 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 to 2 teaspoons instant espresso, to taste (optional)
- 1½ teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1½ sticks (12 tablespoons; 6 ounces; 170 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
- 1⁄3 cup (67 grams) sugar
- 1⁄3 cup (67 grams) packed light brown sugar
- 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
- ½ cup (120 ml) unsulfured molasses
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1⁄3 cup (55 grams) chopped crystallized ginger or 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger mixed with 2 teaspoons sugar (see headnote)
- 7 ounces (200 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped chip-size
- Sugar, for rolling
Whisk the flour, cocoa, espresso (if using), spices, baking soda and salt together. Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter and both sugars together on medium-low speed for about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed, until fully blended. Add the yolk and beat for 1 minute, then add the molasses and vanilla, beating until smooth. Turn off the mixer, add the dry ingredients all at once and pulse the mixer until the risk of flying flour passes. Working on low speed, mix the dough until the flour is almost but not completely incorporated. Add the crystallized ginger (or the sugared fresh ginger) and chocolate and mix until the dry ingredients disappear into the dough and the ginger and chocolate are evenly distributed. If you’ve got bits of dry ingredients on the bottom of the bowl, mix them in with a flexible spatula.
Gather the dough into a ball, flatten it and wrap it in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Getting ready to bake: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat it to 350 degrees F. Butter or spray regular muffin tins or, if making free-form cookies, line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Have a medium cookie scoop at hand. Alternatively, you can use a rounded tablespoonful of dough for each cookie. If you’re using tins, find a jar or glass that fits into them and can be used to flatten the dough; cover the bottom in plastic wrap. Spoon some sugar into a wide shallow bowl.
For each cookie, mold a scoop or spoonful of dough into a ball between your palms, then turn it in the sugar to coat and put in a muffin cup or on a baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each ball of dough. If using tins, use the jar or glass to flatten each ball until it almost reaches the sides of the cup. If it’s free- form, press to flatten to about 1⁄2 inch thick.
Bake the cookies for about 13 minutes, rotating the tins or sheets top to bottom and front to back after 7 minutes. The cookies should be lightly set around the edges and softer in the center. Transfer the tins or sheets to racks and let the cookies rest for 15 minutes before unmolding them and/or placing them on racks to cool completely.
If you’re baking in batches, make certain to start with cool tins or baking sheets.
Playing Around Ginger-Chocolate Ganache: To make a ganache that you can use to finish the cookies, bring 2⁄3 cup heavy cream and four 1⁄4-inch-thick slices of fresh ginger to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat, cover the pan and allow the cream to infuse for 20 minutes. Return the cream to the boil, then remove the ginger and pour half of the cream over 6 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate. Wait for 30 seconds, stir gently and then stir in the remainder of the cream. Dip the top or one side of each cookie in the chocolate and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Chill for 20 minutes to set the chocolate. Bring the cookies to room temperature before serving.
Storing You can refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days. You can also scoop out the dough, shape into balls and freeze the balls on baking sheets; when they’re firm, pack them airtight and keep frozen for up to 2 months. Remove the dough from the freezer and let the balls sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, then roll in sugar and bake. The baked cookies can be kept in a sealed container at room temperature for up to 4 days. They’ll get a little drier and a little less chewy, but that will make them even better for dunking.
The Dorie Greenspan cookbooks on my shelf are all a little worse for wear. It’s a badge of honour on my cookbook shelf. This one will be battered and stained before long, too. There are recipes for any occasion or mood and the technical advice in the “techniques” chapter and throughout the book is invaluable (and not just for cookie-baking). And there’s one more thing that I haven’t mentioned. Dorie is a wonderful writer, with a warm and engaging voice. I spent my first few days with this book simply reading her stories in the headnotes to the recipes. I’m looking forward to working through this book.
When you pick up your copy, I encourage you to bake along with Dorie’s Cookies & Kindness campaign and if you’re really keen, to join the bakers working through the entire book over at Tuesdays with Dorie
Gift Giver’s Guide: For the cookie monster, the small bite seeker, the flavour adventurer, and the gracious gifter.
Come back next week for a review of a book that is as virtuous as it is indulgent.
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