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Chewy, Gooey

Cookies 2.0

Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy: Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies (Artisan Books, 2010)

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Reviewed By Anita Chu

There are countless cookie cookbooks out there these days. Pick one off the shelf, check its table of contents, and you are almost certain to find the usual suspects listed: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, sugar, peanut butter, and so on. This may well lead you to ask, “How many versions of a chocolate chip cookie recipe do I need, anyway?”

Well, “one more” might be the answer, if you’re asking Alice Medrich the question. In her newest offering, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy: Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies, the famed dessert chef and author brings to cookies the same meticulous precision she applies to her trademark chocolate desserts. The results are wonderfully un-ordinary and refreshingly different.

Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy is actually a reincarnation of one of Medrich’s first books, Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies. Upon revisiting that work, Medrich realized she wanted to update the book with a more modern sensibility, introducing flavors and techniques she’d refined over the years.

Medrich is a restless baker and intrepid experimenter. She delights in tweaking and re-tweaking her famous recipes, creating endless new riffs. She writes extensively about this practice in her introduction, explaining how she plays with ingredients, proportions, baking temperatures, and other variables in search of the perfect iteration.

What inspires her? New ingredients added to old classics: think saffron, lavender, or garam masala combining with the likes of tuiles and biscotti. New textures: Medrich is constantly editing ingredients to create crispier or chewier cookies. New demands: Medrich reinvents recipes, using ancient grains, alternative sweetenings, and other means to address the increasing numbers of dietary restrictions and nutritional needs.

The resulting collection feels very eclectic and personal. Many recipes are old favorites given irresistible Medrich twists: nutty, crunchy sesame sticks; warm, cinnamon-dusted blondies; delectably tender golden kamut shortbread; very tangy lemon bars. Others are newcomers so intriguing they had me jumping up to preheat the oven.

Medrich’s cookies have a purity of flavor that speaks of thoughtful testing. Her pecan polvorones embody “melt in your mouth” and are wonderfully nutty. The coconut macaroons, made with unsweetened flaked coconut and lime zest, taste like a fresh tropic breeze. As for brownies, Medrich has devised at least 10 different variations this time, ranging from cakey and soft to ultra-dense and gooey. This book has gotten brownie-making down to a science.

It’s also great to see Medrich take on the challenge of creating wheat-free and dairy-free recipes. She’s set herself a very high standard of “healthy” cookies that taste as delicious as her traditionals, and the approximately 40 recipes she’s included give those with dietary restrictions an enticing selection to choose from. The Honey Hemp Bars and Wheat Free Rugelach are especially intriguing.

The book’s layout and presentation are similarly thoughtful. Recipes are organized by texture, a clever new way to consider your cookie cravings: Do you want a crispy sugar cookie, crunchy biscotti, a chewy coconut macaroon, or a gooey brownie? You now have the master baker’s primer on how to fine-tune your recipes to get the desired result.

There is also a great “Smart Search” feature in the back of the book that breaks down recipes into several popular categories, including wheat-free, quick and easy, and low-fat, making it easy as pie (or shortbread!) to zero in on the right choice. Medrich’s clear, informative prose shines everywhere, from baking tips through sections on ingredients and tools, making this book a great go-to resource.

Even if your shelf is already crowded with cookie cookbooks, it’s worth making room for Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy. •

Anita Chu, also known as pastrygirl, is the creator of Dessert First (www.dessertfirstgirl.com), an award-winning blog dedicated to all things sweet. Anita was professionally trained in the pastry arts at Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco. Dessert First documents her adventures in the kitchen through vivid descriptions and mouth-watering photos, along with recipes. She is also the author of Field Guide to Cookies and Field Guide to Candy (Quirk Books, 2008 & 2009, respectively). Contact her at anita@dessertfirstgirl.com

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