I don’t do my baking when everyone else does. I do mine twice a year, in February and August, when friends come to stay with me while exhibiting at the Javits Center. A number of years ago I baked a bunch of cookies, they took them to the fair, and all their clients loved them. The next show people were coming by their booth asking “Do you have any cookies?” Thus begins a tradition. And a reputation must be maintained. I usually rely on recipes from RLB’s “Christmas Cookies.” But this past Christmas so many people were recommending Carole Walter’s book that I took it out of the library for a test drive.
My main criticism of the book is a personal one. I prefer to bake by weight, not volume. And Walter doesn’t use weights at all. One recipe calls for “3/4 cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter.” Well, I use French butter. It doesn’t come in sticks. Why not just say “6 ounces”? And in another recipe she calls for “1 cup graham cracker crumbs.” How am I supposed to know how many crackers make a cup of crumbs? If she can’t give us the number of crackers, why not give us the weight?
And the book is not as well edited as it should be. There are instructions that are missing, and some that just don’t make sense (see biscotti, below).
I also question her rating system. She has little icons that indicate whether the cookie is easy or complicated to make, ranging from one icon for easy to three for difficult. Some of the recipes that she calls easy are awfully fussy and time-consuming and although I didn’t try any of the cookies she says are difficult to make, just reading the recipe makes me think they wouldn’t take very much longer than some she calls easy.
The cookies, though, have been very good; one of them outstanding. I’ve made four so far.
Crystallized Ginger and Macadamia Wafers
A thin, slightly chewy cookie that’s easy to make. The flavor is quite subtle, but I adore ginger and would have like a bit more of a hit. Her ingredients list calls for “1 (2.5 ounce) jar Australian crystallized ginger bits.” I have no idea what this product is. I used crystallized ginger. Maybe these “bits” do have more of a bite. Some of the people who tried them liked these a whole lot better than I.
Shaved Chocolate and Pistachio Biscotti
Very tasty, but her instructions are sloppy. Although she’s specific in other biscotti recipes about how to cut them on the diagonal, for this recipe she just says to “cut logs in ½-inch-thick slices.” But that’s not what’s shown in the photo and, I’m sure, not what was intended. Also, after the sliced biscotti have been baked for 15 minutes on the first side, she says to turn them and bake for another 7 to 10 minutes. But how do you know which? She doesn’t say what to look for in terms of color, so how is one supposed to tell whether or not it needs another 3 minutes? This is a really good biscotti and I liked them a great deal, but I tend to be more of a traditionalist and prefer RLB’s Almond Biscotti and even Zuni’s Cornmeal-Pistachio Biscotti.
Her version of Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cakes are simply marvelous, truly melt in your mouth. She’s says they’re easy to make, and they’re not difficult—but they are quite fussy. They’re so good, that I’m even getting over my annoyance at the fact that the photo in the book is faked; they’ve been sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar, not just rolled in it, to make them look more attractive than they could possibly be if you just followed the instructions. These were my favorite of the four, but for one person, at least, they were her least favorite; she didn’t like the texture and thought they were too dry. Go figure.
Peanut Butter Balls
Another recipe she says is easy that is even fussier than the Snowballs. You make a dough of confectioner’s sugar, butter, graham cracker crumbs, and chunky peanut butter; roll them into 60 1-inch balls; dip them in melted chocolate; then roll them in finely chopped salted peanuts. This is definitely a cookie for Peanut Butter Cup lovers and were a big hit all around.
I wasn’t quite as taken with this book as I had hoped to be after reading about it here, but I will be adding it to my collection—when I can find it at a really good price.