Is there such a thing as the perfect cookie? So many factors come into play: shape, crispness, flavour combinations, even colour. A cookie can take on new character with very subtle tweaks… an extra egg, two minutes longer in the oven or a different flour altogether.
One of my favourite cookies is one I receive at Christmas from Aunt Ellen in Rehoboth Beach. It’s chocolate chip with course, granulated sugar and so little flour that it spreads out into a thin, almost crystallised wafer that crunches with a hint of cinnamon.
Other times, I crave something chunkier — dried cherries, toasted macadamia and white chocolate with a cake-like, crumbly centre. Or for teatime, it would be hard to beat a lemon bar — crispy, rich shortbread topped with tart custard and dusted with icing sugar.
For the beginning baker, the realm of cookiedom is a terrific one to explore. There are numerous methods available and some so effortless that it’s easy to achieve something positively heavenly in as little as 30 minutes.
The drop cookie is a prime example. Just mix everything together in a bowl and spoon out into individual portions. Even simpler yet are bar-shaped cookies, in which the dough is pressed into a pan then cut up once baked. The roll-out varieties involve more work but produce more uniformed and interesting shapes. And when the oven is not an option, there’s the ever dependable no-bake cookie that’s mostly bound by a syrup of some sort.
For me, no holiday season is complete without a larder laden with cookies galore. They are part of the perfect hospitality toolkit and wonderful to have on hand as family crowds round the dining table and friends pop by for a chinwag.
It’s especially during this socially packed time of year that I try to stretch out a recipe. I make one cookie dough to use as a base for different treats. Here are three that I love: the cut-up sugar cookie, a shaped thumbprint cookie with jam, and a dense, chocolate fruit bar.
May your season be bright and buttery. See you again in 2014.