Un-Wreckable, Extra-Customizable Cookies—for Cooks

September 12, 2016

Bakers and pastry chefs like me often wince when cooks—even great cooks—turn to baking. Cooks can taste and correct along the way, thin or reduce sauces, adjust seasonings, and generally fix mistakes. Measuring is a casual concept; in so many dishes, precision just ain’t that important. And you know cooks: They pride themselves on never doing anything the same way twice and just "throwing in" a little of this or that.

But "casual" makes pastry chefs crazy. In our world, small changes in timing, mixing, the materials of cake pans and cookie sheets, and especially measuring, can change results dramatically. If your cookies come out like paperweights and jawbreakers—well, I’m just sayin'....

Right-Brain Nutty Butter Cookies—from my book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts, which is full of foolproof, un-fussy, forgiving recipes that work—are cookies for cooks. They are impossible to wreck. Even I relax when I make them.

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First, they’re butter cookies because butter makes cookies tender and because there’s no liquid added to toughen the cookie if the dough is overworked. But nuts are the magic ingredient that makes the recipe extra-forgiving—all of those nuts add a boatload of flavor while insuring tenderness. Imagine eating the toughest cookie in the world. Now imagine it again but with a huge amount of chopped or ground-up nuts added. The nuts interrupt the tough, hard cookie with tiny bits of tender crunchiness, and the cookie seems instantly more tender. See?

Keep the nuts coarsely chopped, or grind them finely. Add raisins or chopped fruit—or not! Photo by James Ransom

You can have your way with the nuts. Use them raw or toasted, salted or plain. Chop them coarsely or finely or pulverize them in a food processor. The finer the nuts, the more tender and melt-in-your-mouth the cookie! The amount of sugar is flexible too, and you can swap in some whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose. You’ll also get even more flavor and tenderness if you refrigerate the dough for at least 1 day and up to 3 days before you bake, and if you bake them at least one day before you serve them. Have fun—I dare you to make a tough or bad cookie with this recipe.

Alice Medrich is a Berkeley, California-based pastry chef, chocolatier, and cookbook author. You can read more about what she's up to here.

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My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).