I love cooking with Mom. Food is a big thing in our family, but my cooking and so much of how I think about it comes straight from her. She’s a better, more intuitive baker than I am by a long shot, so when I found a cookie cookbook that blends science and creativity, I timed my review testing to line up with a trip home to see her.
I’d discovered the book thanks to Jill Lightner, a food-writer neighbor who also runs a little free bakery in front of her Seattle home. Her story had me intrigued about the authors, Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin, a couple who work for the Centers for Disease Control at their day jobs and have also written the esteemed cookbook The New Pie.
Cookbook recipes for cookies can feel like a tired space: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodle, thumbprint, repeat. In the duo’s new book, Fabulous Modern Cookies, they mix it up. Here’s an example: Not only do their chocolate chip cookies use brown butter, it’s “bronze butter,” a trick they borrowed from Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, where milk solids are stirred into the melted butter as it browns on the stove, supercharging the characteristic nutiness and giving the cookie a crazy-good, long-lasting flavour.
Mom looked at the combination-to-be of eggs, butter, sugar, and vanilla and, while the instructions offered to Leeway, said, “Put that in the stand mixer, it’s gonna get gruesome if you mix that by hand.”
We moved on to lemon cheesecake rollouts, a sort of creamy shortbread cousin. I pulled out the scale and hoped it would be a great way to get her, an imperial-measure, cups-and-quarts kind of gal, into measuring by weight.
“I have a big rolling pin,” she pronounced, setting it on the scale as I recalibrated my hopes and dreams. It weighs 1,236 grams.
Measuring by weight can produce fantastic, consistent results and, since you’re often pouring ingredients directly into the bowl you’re mixing them in, it cuts down on cleaning; there won’t be any measuring cups to wash, for example.
The next day, I made infinity brownies with my nephew Eli who, at 13, is into cooking and is especially curious about timing and temperature in a recipe. The “infinity” part of the brownies is that, by cooking in a water bath known as a bain-marie, it keeps crispy edges from forming, so you get wall-to-wall fudge.
The first signs of great success with the book came when my dad, who’s not known for his sweet tooth, kept strolling into the kitchen like he was looking for the dog leash or rooting around for lost keys. Only later did we realize that with each trip he’d scooped out a chunk of brownies.
Next, Mom and I switched to “escapes,” aka piña colada oatmeal cookies, with an entry that features a history of the drink in the headnotes. Normally, a cookie with a name like this wouldn’t be my bag, but Taylor and Arguin feature roasted pineapple chunks, shredded coconut, and dark rum. (I couldn’t bring myself to go full Malibu, so I got Myers’s.) This was another one where Mom’s cool hand was very helpful. Toward the end of baking, I’d peek into the oven and get a little uncertain about how much longer they needed, and she’d look over my shoulder and say “three more minutes” and be right on the money.
We got into a groove after that, making little coconut cookies that sandwich guava preserves thickened with Instant ClearJel, a modified starch that’s often used to firm up fruit-pie filling. Maybe it was the brand of guava preserves we used or that we could have used more starch, but it still squished out the sides, which was a fantastic excuse to go open-faced and double our guava intake. The fruit was a perfect foil for the cream of coconut and coconut flakes, tartness dancing with sweet and crunchy. It wasn’t everyone’s favorite, but those of us who loved it really loved it, giving it top marks on the fabulousness scale.