Whether you need a killer recipe for the next holiday cookie swap, or a simple treat for your nearest and dearest, Alice Medrich has written the perfect book: Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies, a how-to cookie-baking manual and full-range collection of cookie recipes—all obsessively tested by a multiple James Beard-award-winning author.
My first look through Chewy Gooey, I was struck by the sleek, modernist photos that brought out the cookies’ textures. (No pictures with frilly ribbons here.) So it made perfect sense that this book is categorized by texture: crispy, crunchy, chunky, chewy, gooey, flaky, and melt-in-your-mouth. You can pick a recipe based on what you feel like eating—a fun and novel take on cookies. The book also has a techie theme, with sections like User’s Guide, Quick Start, FAQs, and a Smart Search that cross-indexes recipes by whether they “freeze well,” are “ridiculously quick and easy,” and so on. And look for recipes with “upgrades” (delicious variations on the recipe) and “tech support” (handy tips for successful baking).
When I spoke with the author recently, the first thing I asked her was what inspired such a unique book. Medrich said it all started with a little cookie book she wrote several years ago that had gone out of print (despite its popularity), and she wanted to update it for a reprint while including iconic cookies, new ideas, and re-vamped recipes (the cocoa wafers are now up to version 3.0, and it’s a go-to recipe, I assure you), as well as adventuresome ingredients, and recipes that are mindful of modern dietary concerns. Hence you’ll find a selection of whole-grain, wheat-free, and dairy-free recipes in here.
Medrich draws on new food trends such as the mixing of sweet and savory (as in the nutty cocoa cookie bark with Parmesan and sea salt), and the use of ingredients from ethnic cuisines, using spices like garam masala (which she points out is not far from the familiar pumpkin pie spice), saffron, and curry. One technique she highly recommends is to dust or grate fresh spices over cookies and brownies to enhance the spicy aroma and create a “layered experience” of flavor. Medrich gives us plenty of these versatile ways to get creative and try new flavors without altering an entire batch of dough.
According to Medrich, the details make all the difference in a great cookie. That’s why I love how each recipe is written with thoughtful, precise, and succinct instructions (plus a spoonful of good humor)—you won’t get mired in extraneous details. And you know that each recipe is exhaustively tested. Medrich constantly asks herself, “What if I change this or that?” Then she does all the side-by-side testing to satisfy her “what if” curiosity so you don’t have to. All the more reason to listen up when she lists cookie sheet preparations in order of preference (when to use parchment paper or aluminum foil liners, for example), or tells you how to adjust the recipe depending on the percentage of cacao in the chocolate you’re using.
As a nerdy baker, my favorite part of Chewy Gooey is how flours and sugars are listed by both cups and tablespoons and by ounces, so you can weigh ingredients rather than measure by volume. In my interview with her, Medrich emphasized the importance of weighing ingredients on a scale. In fact, she tells me this “can make the difference between an exquisite cookie and a doorstop.” IMHO, it’s high time we had cookie recipes by weight. Thank you Alice! (Quixotically, butter measurements are almost always given in tablespoons rather than ounces.)
The must-try cookies from Chewy Gooey are the bittersweet decadence cookies, which are really just brownies disguised as cookies, or put another way, a convenient delivery system for chocolate (so use good quality chocolate—I used Scharffen Berger for the chunks and Guittard couverture wafers for the melted part). The French macarons are perhaps not for the beginning baker, and the sesame sticks tasted wonderful, but they were difficult to slice into neat rectangles that held their shape in the oven. The sugar crunch cookies delivered exactly what the author said they would: airy and superbly crunchy cookies. I’m definitely looking forward to baking more from Chewy Gooey, especially for the holidays (though there’s plenty to keep you occupied all year long). I’ve already got my stomach, er, eye, on several recipes, like the holiday cookie bark and spicy linzer bars. Holiday baking season, here I come.
Come out to Fog City News on Tuesday November 30th, 12:30pm-2pm, for a book-signing with Alice Medrich and a cookie tasting extravaganza hosted by the staff of Fog City News. Plus, take 20% off Chewy Gooey with the purchase of any of Alice’s other books that will be on hand. 455 Market Street at 1st St., 415-543-7400.