The State of the Cookie

Bubbie's Mandelbrot and Aunt Pearl's Bourbon Balls
What to eat. What not to eat.
Dec. 12 2008 6:30 PM

The State of the Cookie

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It's hard to imagine a world without Thin Mints! Although everyone I know is cutting back in one way or another, I think this could still be a good year for cookies. Butter is dear this season, to be sure, but that makes the gift of something baked all the more considerate. And after all, homemade cookies are both more frugal and more fragrant than fine leather goods or cashmere mittens.

In terms of innovation, I think Dorie is right that even with tweaks like mesquite (!) flour, it's the basics that make a cookie great. Even working within Fran Gage's sweet quartet of basic baking ingredients (sugar, almonds, eggs, and butter), there are plenty of decisions we can make to improve the state of our cookies. I grew up in a household that allowed only Blue Bonnet margarine in the butter compartment of the fridge—at the time, it was considered a healthy choice—and I still marvel at the sea change that took place when I started cooking with butter. Talk about an innovation! Beyond that, over the past decade or so we've watched our chocolate get better, our access to organic eggs and higher-fat butter grow, and our sugar options diversify.

And on the subject of sugar and butter and health: Dorie and David, I agree that cookies can be part of a healthful diet, even as I stay wary of "healthy" cookies. For the most part, I've been doing my best to replace mediocre sweets with smaller bites of more intensely flavored goodies. One delicious square of brownie is better—and, I wager, better for you—than omega-3 fortified biscuits by the handful. The more one can consciously appreciate the workmanship in a cookie— the shattering brown-sugar crisp of a lace cookie, the candied nougat chew of the inside of a meringue, or the anise fragrance of a biscochito—the easier it is to be satisfied with just three or four bites of goodness.

That reminds me: Much has been made of artisanal foods over the past decades. We shouldn't forget (and I'm sure neither of you do) that as home bakers, we are all artisans. That's true whether one is passing on long-standing traditions like Bubbie's mandelbrot or Aunt Pearl's bourbon balls or seeing whether oatmeal cookies could be even better with candied ginger and goji berries. Thanks so much for your wit and your passion, Dorie and David—I can't wait to see what you each bake next.

Yours,
Sara

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