Serious Eats: Recipes

Cook the Book: Black and White Cookies

[Flickr: nikkicookiebaker]

Those of you who have been following A Cookie a Day 2009 know that I've been doing a lot of baking lately. My kitchen has become a small-scale cookie factory, and my production has become so great that I've been passing off my cookies to anyone who expresses even the most vague interest in sweets. After a few weeks of putting out dozens of cookies an unsettling feeling spread over me. No, it wasn't a comedown from all of the butter and sugar I've been ingesting recently—it was more of a nagging sensation. I've baked dozens upon dozens of cookies, and they've all turned out well. Call me a cookie fatalist, but I kept thinking, "When was the cookie disaster going to happen?"

The answer came on Saturday night, when I set out to make these Black and White Cookies from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book.

I was thrilled to see a recipe for this classic New York cookie, it was always been one of my guiltiest pleasures. For me, black and white cookies are about two things—visual appeal and icing appreciation. I couldn't wait to replicate these deli favorites at home, to see just what goes into that lemon-scented cakey cookie and what kind of magic made that sweet, sweet icing.

With an air of childlike excitement I rifled through my cabinets to assemble the ingredients for my black and white cookies, and it was in those very cupboards that the problems began. The recipe calls for 4 cups of cake flour, which I did not have. What I did have was a bag of organic pastry flour, and I mistakenly decided that it would do the trick. When pouring out the measured amount, the flour looked decidedly whole-wheaty, coarse, and clumpy. In the back of my mind I knew that this flour wasn't going to do the trick and, unsurprisingly, it didn't. The cookies tasted fine, nicely flavored with lemon and vanilla, but the texture was a disaster. They were grainy and heavy; with an equally heavy heart I deposited them in the trash.

After dinner and a snowstorm that prohibited a quick run to the grocery store for cake flour I consulted the inside cover of America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book; its helpful substitutions guide informed me that I could use 7/8 cup of all-purpose flour mixed with 2 tablespoons cornstarch to approximate cake flour. And it was with this indispensable piece of information that I was able to make the base for my black and white cookies.

After making the necessary substitutions my second batch of black and cookie bases came out perfectly and the icing process was definitely fun, if not a little messy. I packed up my cookies and brought them to another little holiday get together. It was at this party that I received the ultimate cookie compliment, my cookies were mistaken for store bought. In most cases that wouldn't warrant an overwhelming feeling of self satisfaction, but in this case I was quite pleased.

Win America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book to give away this week.

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