To us, cookies are the most approachable of all desserts. (9)
What Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin say in the introduction to their latest book, Fabulous Modern Cookies, is absolutely true! Of all the desserts, cookies are the most approachable. Thinking back to when I was little, one of the first things that I baked with my mom were cookies, and this is the case with my own daughter. It’s about having fun and enjoying the results. I remember that when Katie and I made animal crackers, hers weren’t that great looking, however, I can attest to the fact that even the misshapen cookies taste delicious! This brings me to another crucial point that Taylor and Arguin make in the introduction: “Cookies are for making friends.”(9) One of the reasons my friends and neighbours love me is, that when I bake, I make sure to pack a bakery box or paper bag full of treats and drop them off (my holiday cookie boxes are legendary). Cookies are great because you can make dozens in one go, so there’s plenty to go around.
Taylor and Arguin are exacting when it comes to recipe writing. The ingredients of each recipe are given in both volume and weight amounts and, there are times they even give the weight each portion of dough should be when you scoop your dough. I normally weigh my dough and divide by the yield so that my cookies are uniform and bake properly and I notice when the authors give the weight of each dough portion (12g/using a #100 scoop), it works out exactly. So, when I made the Next-Gen Peanut Butter Cookies, the recipe made precisely 4 1/2 dozen cookies. This goes to show how well-tested their recipes are and, I appreciate this kind of accuracy as it only makes the result that much better!
The recipes are organized into 8 chapters: 1) Bar Cookies, 2) Drop Cookies, 3) Rolled Cookies, 4) Slice-and-Bake Cookies, 5) Filled, Stuffed, and Sandwiched Cookies, 6) Piped, Shaped, Molded, and No-Bake Cookies, 7) Savory Cookies, and 8) Fillings and Other Additional Recipes. At the beginning of the book, they take the time to explain ingredients (there’s even a small section talking about gluten-free cookie baking/recipe conversions) and essential equipment, as well as outlining why weighing ingredients is important, how to experiment with flavour and texture and, finally, what happens as a cookie is made (how each step contributes to the overall bake). I found the information extremely helpful in demystifying the process — it also means that anyone can bake a spectacular cookie! One of the most helpful pages in the book is page 86, where they show five different configurations for dough placement on 18 x 13″ baking sheets. I often have trouble judging how many cookies can fit on a pan before they end up merging together in a blob as they bake, so the picture examples were great! There’s something deeply satisfying when you have a neatly arranged sheet of cookies.
Brown butter as an ingredient in baking is very popular (mainly because it imparts so much flavour into the dough) and, in their recipe for Bronze Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, Taylor and Arguin manage to add even more flavour to brown butter by using one ingredient (I’ll let you find out when you get the book). When I baked this recipe, my husband (and resident chocolate chip cookie connoisseur) told me that these were the best cookies he’s ever had! Browning butter is an extra step but as the results prove, completely worth the extra effort!
My favourite cookies from the book are the Jam-on-Toast Thumbprints. Meant to be reminiscent of jammy, buttery toast, these thumbprint cookies, made with some whole wheat flour, coated in toasted panko crumbs with a generous dollop of marmalade in the centre, really have put this breakfast staple into cookie form! The texture that the panko bread crumbs add is wonderful and really compliments the jammy centre. This recipe is customizable too — if you’re not a marmalade fan, then any jam would taste great here.
One day last week, I baked up the Bright Lemon Mads for my daughter to enjoy as an afterschool treat. The freshly squeezed lemon juice adds such a bright flavour and, my daughter really appreciates the cakey texture of the madeleines. I liked that I could prepare the batter the day before (it sits overnight in the fridge), so that I could have them fresh and ready for when we got home. She enjoyed these so much that I’ll make the Dark Lemon version next time (it uses brown sugar and brown butter in the recipe).
Taylor and Arguin really focus on flavour and texture in their recipes and, I found that they took the time to develop different versions of classic recipes. Take the oatmeal cookie (Crispy Chocolate Five-Spice Oatmeal Cookies) for example — they add cocoa powder and five-spice powder to the dough to add flavour. After the cookies had baked, I also added a liberal drizzle of melted chocolate to each cookie. Then there are their Next-Gen Peanut Butter Cookies where they add toasted sesame oil to the dough to amplify the peanut butter flavour. Toasted sesame oil has a very pronounced taste and I wondered if it might be too much. But it’s as they say in their recipe notes: toasted sesame oil brings out the peanut flavour in the same way coffee enhances chocolate flavour when used together. Totally made for each other (and very delicious when paired in baking)!
As they tell us at the end of the introduction: “Our goal is to entice and teach fellow cookie lovers and bakers of all stripes to make delicious, foolproof cookies and introduce new flavors that bakers can use to share with friends, wow at parties, and create new memories with their families”(11) and, after baking from Fabulous Modern Cookies, this is exactly what they have done. They have used their imaginations and talents to give home bakers well-tested and extremely delicious cookies! I’ve baked some new family favs from this book (and I’ve bookmarked many more recipes that I can’t wait to bake! I’m already looking forward to my 2022 holiday cookie boxes!)
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Countryman Press for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.