No photos, just a rant: how does a cookbook make it from manuscript to print with NO recipe testing? Last night, I attempted to make “Maple-Pecan Cookies”, a recipe in Milk and Cookies by Tina Casaceli, who operates an eponymous NYC bakery. The cookies were inedible. A quick visit to Amazon’s reader reviews online revealed that I wasn’t the only one with big problems: the recipes simply don’t work. Surely, if the recipes had been tested as written, someone would have corrected the problems.
What went wrong, you ask? It damn sure wasn’t me–it was the recipe. It seemed like a straightforward recipe–melted butter, maple syrup, brown sugar, white sugar, flavorings, flour, nuts–but the resulting dough was the consistency of praline batter. It simply wouldn’t scoop into mounds as suggested in the recipe, so I added a couple tablespoons of flour. Now, the batter was slightly more like dough. Still, the baked cookies spread into a solid mass despite 4″ spacing and the texture was weird (simultaneously sticky and rubbery, like worn-out weatherstripping or the sole of an old Nike Free). Despite doubling the cooking time, the cookies refused to brown.
Sigh. I should have trusted my cooking instincts. The recipe’s headnotes describe a cookie similar to storebought Pecan Sandies, yet the recipe called for more butter and less flour than a TollHouse cookie, plus the added liquids of maple syrup and two tablespoons of orange juice. My gut told me that the flour, fat, and liquid ratios were off, but I soldiered on, trusting the printed page. I thought that the 9-ounce weight equivalent for 2 cups of flour seemed light (it’s closer to 10 oz), but I used the 9 ounces anyway. I knew that 350 was too low a temperature to cook such a wet dough, but I didn’t increase it.
The whole batch went into the trash. I can’t remember the last time I threw out an entire batch of baked goods. My only consolation: I didn’t buy the book, I checked it out of the library. Such a crummy start to my holiday baking. Tonight, I’ll have to make up for the failure with a successful batch of cookies.
In case you’re looking for good to great holiday cookie recipes, here are several books I recommend in lieu of the awfulness described above. I’ve used all of the books listed below; all have reliable, accurate recipes, clear instructions, and interesting flavors.
- Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy by Alice Medrich; tested beyond all doubt. The author adds a tremendous number of helpful instructions, tweaks, and tips.
- The All American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett; a comprehensive array of traditional American cookies. Try the vanilla shortbread domes first….exquisite.
- Biscotti: Recipes from the American Academy in Rome by Talbot & Misenti. Simple, Italian cookies, with an array of typical biscotti. Less sugar than American style cookie recipes.
- The Gourmet Cookie Book from he late, lamented Gourmet magazine. Editors picked the single best cookie recipe from 1941 to 2009.
- The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, from King Arthur Flour. A wonderful beginner’s book, with master recipes in key types (crunchy, chewy, and soft variations in oatmeal, sugar, and chocolate chip), suggested variations, and enough “cookie chemistry” in the text to improve your small-sweets baking.
May all of your holiday baking be successful!