ON AVERAGE, I bake cookies every week. Special events ramp that up; unbearable can’t-possibly-use-the-oven heat takes it away, but homemade cookies are a staple. So, when I saw that Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin, authors of 2019’s exceptional “The New Pie,” had written “Fabulous Modern Cookies,” I was both excited (I clearly love cookies) and skeptical (I clearly count myself an expert).
Their pie dough recipe is my lifetime favorite, and with cookies they won my skeptical heart by teaching me things I hadn’t considered, suggesting new ingredients to play with and comforting my ego via a few persnickety details I discard with aplomb, trusting that I, the self-proclaimed expert, can ignore those tips.
Taylor and Arguin are spouses who work for the CDC, and really, their persnickety details are useful — they know of what they write in terms of temperatures, baking times and mixing methods. Thanks to them, I finally bought a cookie scoop, and it really is faster and more consistent than eyeballing. Do I follow their maps for how many cookies to bake per sheet, possibly resulting in just six cookies on a half sheet pan? No. Might my cookies be more uniform and have slightly improved textures if I did as directed? Probably. We all have the point where we roll our eyes and do what we want when it comes to following recipes, even if cookbook authors wish we wouldn’t.
Speaking of such matters: As they did with “The New Pie,” all recipes have both weights and measures. I start with weighing and get progressively more careless the more familiar I get with a recipe. These recipes work, whether you’re carefully spooning grams of flour or quickly eyeballing your measuring cup. I baked five recipes, and all are winners.
The jam thumbprint rolled in toasted panko crumbs? I now roll all thumbprints in toasted panko; it’s the delicate crunch that cookie needs. The chocolate chip made with bronze butter, which is browned butter plus toasted milk powder? Miraculously dense and chewy from edge to edge. The raspberry lemonade introduced me to using powdered, freeze-dried fruit and included an entire boiled lemon like my favorite lemon cake, and they made exceptional ice cream sandwiches. For fans of salty-sweet caramel and cheddar popcorn (or countless residents of states with legal cannabis), I suggest the Chicago Crispy Rice Treats, which combine caramel, Cheetos and puffed rice cereal.
Then there are the wholesome delights of Grahammies, a blondie made with 100% whole wheat flour, and the kid favorite of all I baked. In separate tests, I used flour from Bob’s Red Mill, Nash, and Cairnspring Mills; the latter was particularly nutty-tasting and flavorful, but all were good.
Note: Only measurements are included here (weights are in the book “Fabulous Modern Cookies”); corn syrup can be substituted for the golden syrup.
Makes 16 (2-inch) squares
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup golden syrup (see note above)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350° F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil. Lightly spray the foil with nonstick baking spray.
2. Whisk together the flour, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl; set aside.
3. Depending on the capacity of your stand mixer, this might be more convenient to mix using an electric hand mixer. Combine the sugar, butter and golden syrup in a large bowl, and mix on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla, until the mixture is uniform.
4. Beat in the flour mixture on low speed until no dry flour is visible. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula to make sure all ingredients have been incorporated.
5. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, making sure the pan corners are filled and the top is smooth and level, using a silicone or small offset spatula.
6. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs (but no gooey batter) attached, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack for about 2 hours. Use the foil to remove from the pan before cutting into 2-inch squares.