Welcome to this month’s instalment of The Everyday Baker review (I’m spreading it out over the course of a year because with over 170 recipes and 600+ pages, it’s a little hard to cover unless you divide it up into chapters!). This month, we’re looking at “Cookies”. Because you can’t have a baking
book bible without a chapter on cookies, right?
There are 27 recipes in this chapter with a wide variety of cookies – from gingerbread to sandwich cookies with things like meringues, macarons, tuiles and rugelach in between, it’s a comprehensive list of classics as well as some more unusual ones. I was a little surprised to see there was no classic chocolate chip cookie in there, though – for me that would seem like a more obvious choice than, say, macarons in terms of “must know” cookies…
“Cookies” Techniques and Tips
This chapter is full of excellent techniques and tips for cookie bakers at any level of experience. From shaping cookies, either by hand or with a scoop, to rolling dough, there are a lot of step-by-step images to guide you along the way. Abby shows you how to line a baking pan, how to decorate sugar cookies (I’ll be referring to this when it’s time to bake holiday cookies!), how to cut even squares with bars, how to check for doneness , how to work with and measure sticky ingredients, how to assemble and fill a pastry bag (with excellent step-by-step images) and how to successfully flatten cookie dough balls without them falling apart. There is so much essential knowledge in this chapter – even experienced bakers will learn something new!
“Cookies” Baker’s Wisdom
In this chapter, Abby gives advice on a number of areas that might be second nature to more experienced bakers but perhaps not for newer bakers. She runs through how to obtain a clean slice with squares and bars, how to properly store baking nuts, how to approach the (what may be daunting to new bakers) task of decorating sugar cookies, how to store spices, how to test that your rolling bands are accurate before you roll out a whole batch of dough (don’t simply assume they are!), how to ensure you get the best meringue (hint: it’s all about a clean bowl and beaters!), how to make sure your parchment paper doesn’t lift off the tray when baking, and – perhaps the most important lesson of all – practice makes perfect (in relation to making tuiles which does require practice but really, applies to all baking and it’s a lesson I try to teach all my students – kids and adults!).
So, which cookies did I make?
Macarons! I’m sure it’s not a surprise to anyone that I can’t go past a macaron recipe 😉 Whilst I have my own tried and true recipe, I am always interested in other people’s. Abby’s recipe was slightly different from mine in terms of the egg white to sugar ratio so I was curious to check it out. Whilst I did have success with this one, I am not sure that a novice baker would enjoy the same results. Making macarons can be tricky and explaining the steps in words is hard. The book does send you to step-by-step images for this recipe which are well done, although I’ve found that videos work best in terms of showing people what the different stages look like, it’s hard in photos. I tried really hard to follow Abby’s recipe method word for word but as a very experienced baker of macarons, it’s hard to ignore what has become instinct. For example, she calls for adding the sugar a tablespoon at a time to the egg whites as you are whipping them; I added all the sugar at once because I know it works like that too. I followed my own piping method as well and was able to remove any air bubbles out of the tops when I rapped the trays on the countertop. As well as this step, Abby suggests flattening any peaks on top of the piped macarons with a wet finger – I’ve never done that. In the step-by-step images, it says to sprinkle any toppings on the shells just after you pipe them but the recipe suggests waiting until you’ve rested them (1-3 hours!). I let mine sit for 1 hour and they were just fine, but since they dry out on top, no topping (cocoa nibs, fleur de sel) will stick at that stage. I suggest piping, then sprinkling then allowing to rest and dry. The baking temperature was spot on though the baking times were longer on trays lined with silicone baking mats (18 minutes as opposed to 15 for the parchment-lined trays – and yes, three minutes does make a difference!) and the macarons baked on parchment were considerably shorter than the others. They all turned out perfectly though – the ingredient ratios seem to work really well to form a lovely sturdy macaron. I’ll be definitely playing with my own recipe ratios over the summer based on this and a couple of other recipes I have tried recently that use much less egg white for the meringue, resulting in a very sturdy, stable shell. I used Abby’s ganache recipe and added a little Chambord raspberry liqueur which was perfect with dark chocolate. So, definitely an excellent, reliable recipe but I’d suggest it’s for more experienced bakers who have made macarons with success a few times before.
I also went in the complete opposite direction and tried a very simple cookie – the Bittersweet Chocolate Peppermint Thumbprint Cookies. These cookies come together in a few minutes with just a handful of ingredients and don’t involve many complicated steps. Abby walks you through shaping the dough and forming the “thumbprint” (not with your thumb!) which I was semi-successful with as you can see from the photo below because they cracked slightly at the edges (not enough for the filling to leak through though so not a total fail on my part!). I didn’t have any peppermint candies on hand so I sprinkled the ganache topping with sprinkles because, well, who doesn’t like sprinkles?
These were deemed “THE BEST COOKIES EVER” by my neighbour whose husband happened to be walking by our house as I was taking photos on the porch and who took a plateful home. I responded that they were “so easy” and she suggested that it might be for me because I bake so much. I told her that seriously anyone can bake these (they can!) – it’s the beauty of this book, that it contains fairly complex recipes as well as lovely simple “anyone can make them” recipes. (Psst: get the recipe for these delightful cookies on Fine Cooking!).
Please note: The product links from Amazon and The Book Depository are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price which goes towards maintaining eat. live. travel. write. Thank you in advance!
Disclosure: Abby is a friend but she didn’t ask me to write about the book. In fact, she didn’t even know I had a copy until I told her!
Read more about The Everyday Baker on eat. live. travel. write.