The State of the Cookie
Dear Sara and Dorie,
I feel like I'm becoming my parents whenever I say, "I remember when," but I can't help adopting the phrase since so many of the great, old-fashioned cookies seem to be disappearing. I remember when you could buy HeyDays at the supermarket! I remember Mother's white-frosted Circus Animal cookies! Thankfully, the trusty Girl Scouts still come 'round annually and remind us that some treats will always be in fashion. Although a couple of years ago in politically correct San Francisco, I saw the police rousting a gaggle of green-garbed girls from a shopping center. Their crime? Selling cookies without the necessary permits. I'm all for a crackdown on unlawful activity, but not having access to those chocolate-mint cookies is a crime in itself.
Sara, you hit the nail on the head with the idea that cookies need more care than other baked goods. Mixing and timing can be critical, and since someone (with more resolve than me!) might be eating only one cookie, it'd better be good. Keeping dough in the freezer is an excellent idea, and I usually have a few logs in there myself. In fact, over Thanksgiving weekend while everyone else was frantically cooking away, I calmly whipped a few bags of cookie dough out of the freezer—chocolate-coconut macaroons and chocolate chip cookies—and within 15 minutes, I was pulling freshly baked cookies out of the oven (and on my second glass of rosé). The only problem with being so well-prepared is that I had to guard the warm cookies with my life since no one wanted to wait until dessert to dive in.
Dorie and Sara, I do think underbaking can be advantageous, especially with treats like snickerdoodles or chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies, which should have a good chew. The hard truth is that you need to watch cookies like a hawk while they're baking. They can go from chewy, meltingly divine delights to sorry, crumbly discs in a matter of a minute.
I also beg to differ with the premise that a healthy cookie is "an untenable paradox." Who said that cookies are inherently unhealthy, anyway? I think folks should re-examine what "healthy" is. Is a low-fat cookie packed with sugar and hydrogenated fat better for you than a gingersnap made with butter and freshly ground spices? For that matter, I don't think a sweet treat made with real butter, eggs, and chocolate is all that bad for you. People should be selective about what they eat and go for quality over quantity, which is ultimately more satisfying.
I'm intrigued by any recipe that points out a new tip or technique. Alice Medrich wrote a wonderful book on cookies and brownies a few years back, which is sadly out of print, and each cookie I made from that book was the best of its species. (If I could only find my copy, I'd die a happy man.) Similarly with Dorie's recipes. I know everything that comes out of her kitchen is well-tested, and any cookie recipe that she publishes is a winner.
As for the future, I think cookies are a bit resistant to trends. Sure, we've gone through biscotti and plate-sized cookies, and now French macarons have taken the world by storm, but they are still prepared in a classic, time-honored fashion, because it's hard to improve on the original. That said, Americans are willing to take twists and turns to reflect current trends. Dorie brilliantly added a flurry of fleur de sel to chocolate cookies, Heidi Swanson mixed mesquite flour with her chocolate chip cookies (which if you haven't tried, you must!), and I've been putting cocoa nibs in shortbreads, which give them the explosive taste of chocolate without adding sweetness.