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Flour, butter, eggs, sugar. Put them all together and you get magic.
Specifically, you get a cookie. And what could be more magical than cookies?
Cookies are the most democratic of desserts, the dessert that is enjoyed by everyone. Some may prefer chocolate chip, some may go for delicate wafers, but everybody loves them. Even people who can’t eat them love them.
This time of year, cookie consumption only increases. Like Christmas songs on the radio, you can’t escape them — they are all around us, like molecules of air, but crispier and with sugar on top.
Plus, they are almost as much fun to make as they are to eat. And you know how it is about making cookies: Once you’ve made one batch you want to make another. And another. And another. And another.
So I made five batches. Six, if you count the recipe that didn’t work out right. Seven if you count the fact that I tried that recipe twice. Ahem.
This year, I didn’t want to go the chocolate-chip route. I’m tired of chocolate chip, even though it is scientifically provable that chocolate-chip cookies are the ultimate baked treat. I didn’t go the oatmeal-raisin route either, despite their unquestionable position as a strong No. 2.
This year, I guess I went a little more elegant. A touch more sophisticated. It’s the holidays, I reasoned — time to live it up.
I began (after those two misfires, which don’t count) with Cinnamon cookies. Cinnamon is a spice not typically associated with cookies, except snickerdoodles, but it can be a fine choice given the right circumstances.
The right circumstance turns out to be lemon, or at least lemon zest. A bit of lemon zest inside a flaky butter cookie provides just the right background to bring the sugar and cinnamon into delicious relief.
These cookies have a delicate crunch and a subtle flavor, which is what makes them so refined.
Joe Froggers are bolder — much bolder — but they still seem elegant because they benefit from a couple of clever variations on a popular theme.
Apparently named for the man (Joe Brown) who invented them, Joe Froggers begin with a basic ginger snap. But instead of a moderate amount of molasses, this recipe really dumps the molasses into it. And then it finds the perfect foil for all that molasses, a healthy shot of dark rum.
What you end up with is an enticing cookie with an inspired blend of flavors: ginger, molasses and rum.
If you’ve ever had Palmiers — those light and effervescently flaky rolled cookies made from puff pastry — you might think there was no way to improve upon them. Perfection is an absolute, and all that.
But local chef Jeffrey Deutsch has done the seemingly impossible.
First, he cuts back on the amount of sugar specified in some recipes (I’m talking about you, Ina Garten) or uses more than the amount suggested in others (that would be you, Martha Stewart).
But more significantly, he tempers the sweetness of the sugar with two small lemons’ worth of zest and goes one savory step further by adding a hint of fresh thyme.
Regular Palmiers? Wonderful. But Palmiers buoyed by the taste of lemon and thyme? Spectacular.
Along the same line of taking a great cookie and making it better is one of the favorite desserts we make for guests: Chewy Sugar Cookies.
Credit for these culinary marvels goes to the folks at America’s Test Kitchen, who dedicated themselves to discovering a method to make sugar cookies crisp along the edge and chewy in the center.
As far as I can tell, they achieved this long-desired mix of textures by adding two ingredients to the traditional recipe: cream cheese and vegetable oil. Cream cheese in cookies makes them softer and more chewy. Oil makes them crispy. Put them together and you wind up with cookies that are somehow both at the same time.
Most important, they taste great. Better than great. Amazing, actually.
Finally, I ended with cookies that are perhaps a bit more down-to-earth than the others. With Granola cookies, you essentially make your own granola bar (oats, almonds, walnuts, raisins and honey bound together with a lot of butter and surprisingly little flour), and then you paint them with melted white chocolate.
I couldn’t stop eating them. Once you eat one, you’ll want to eat another. And another. And another. And another.