What Real Cookies Look Like with Mindy Segal
Jill Browning, publicist extraordinaire, gave me a heads up a few months ago about an upcoming book called Cookie Love. Great, I thought, another cookie book. I try not to be cynical, but it isn’t easy to create new points of view when it comes to something as common as cookies. The book arrived in its plain brown cardboard mailer. I pulled it out and BAM there on the cover were these cookies that, well, they just looked so bite-able! Now that might sound weird. We talk about food here all the time and it’s all edible, but does it make you want to bite into it? Now? As in, I wish that were in my mouth now? Not all of it does. But look at the cover below. The dark, almost black richness of the cocoa-based cookie set off by that sugary, chewy, messy, melted marshmallow. I could taste and feel in my mouth how this cookie might be experienced…were there nuts in there too? I flipped to the page. These were Jill’s Spiced Double-Chocolate Cookies and they were even so much more than I thought. Check on the Dutch-processed cocoa. The spice was provided by cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg and clove. Plenty of butter and sugar of course, but more specifically author Mindy Segal called for cane sugar and dark muscovado sugar, and a combo of kosher and larger flake sea salt. Then there was the addition of smoked almonds, gianduja and homemade marshmallow. Now, that’s a lot in one cookie, and there are plenty of simpler and more streamlined cookies in the book, but what drew me in, immediately, was the messiness. The realness. These cookies looked like the cookies most of us bake at home. They aren’t perfect and the fact is, they don’t need to be. They just need to be stuffed full of great ingredients, just like these recipes we are featuring: Peanut Butter Peanut Brittle Cookies and Cocoa Nib Hot Fudge Rugelach. I needed to talk to Mindy…
Dédé Wilson: Mindy! I love your book! I love it because the cookies are so, so messy and real, sugary and crunchy and they make me want to eat them!
Mindy Segal: (laughs) Well, thank you Dédé. I’ll give you the inside story. We were doing the photo shoot and using natural light for all of the images and it was all set up…but I wanted something different. It was important to me that the cookies didn’t look like a pastry chef had made them. I took the manuscript to the manager of the studio – she loves to bake – and I asked her to make them. She did like, 60% of them and those are what you see. They look like the cookies that you would make at home…
How did that go over, with the photographer and everything?
It was fine…me and Kate (Ed Note: Kate Leahy, who co-wrote) were editing while we were shooting, testing and re-testing the recipes and it was the perfect chance and opportunity to make sure they worked perfectly for the home baker…does the language work…it was very important to me that the baker could follow to great success. I’m a professional. When I make a recipe it’s like dodododododododo and it’s done. While writing the book I had to go back and think about everything…I loved the experience.
Hmmm, peanut butter extra tips…well I re-worked a classic peanut butter cookie and took out some of the flour and leavening agent so they were crispier although you still get chewiness from the peanut butter. I wanted to take something ordinary and add something different…the idea came to me to bake in a peanut brittle…make it funky and ugly (laughs). I guess the tip is that I have taken care of all the tips and tricks for you. Seriously. Follow the recipe exactly as written and you will have great success. That’s the trick for both of the recipes! Take advantage of the information I give you…and use great nuts in the brittle! They have to be fresh. You can mix them up…use honey-roasted if you want.
OK, how about the rugelach. When I owned my bakery this was the bane of my existence…when it came time to cut the triangles to roll, I really sucked at getting them even…
So, why do they have to be? Let them be different sizes!
(Laughs) Well, I know what you mean but since they were all priced the same…for home baking, yes I agree! Do you use a pastry wheel?
Yes, one with a scalloped edge…
Mindy, give us your top tips for the home baker to have success in the kitchen:
I can tell you extremely important to read a recipe through and when the author is giving you tips or suggestions or tricks of the trade, you should listen to them because they have made that recipe again and again and are helping you learn what you need to know.
Also, to use fresh ingredients. Are your baking powder and soda fresh? Your butter and eggs should be fresh and at room temperature. I go so far as to tell you the temperature…butter should be 63 to 68°F.
Use an instant read thermometer?
Do you have a preference for cookie sheets?
Yes, Teflon coated are great for egg white cookies but for the rest I find that the standard jelly-roll pan, the ones with the sides are best.
I couldn’t agree more. They are sturdy…don’t warp…I recommend them too.
Exactly and they are easy to grab and get in and out of the oven, too.
Great point. How did you come to focus on cookies?
I wanted to write a book and I had worked on several different ideas and they were all body-of-work books and I started thinking that really what I wanted to do was write several single subject books. I have a lot to say! I wanted to focus one at a time…cookies came first because for sure they are my favorite and I have been baking cookies since I was in the single digits…also, I have been making cookie plates at all these restaurants and really into all the different cookies. And for the home baker they are so easy to make…for me it started as a kid baking with my Mom, making chocolate chip cookies.
You know people always say to me that they are still looking for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I always ask them, well, what is the perfect chocolate chip to you? Because we all have our own likes…what do you like?
I have many different takes on that. Right now my friend is sick and I went grocery shopping for her and I was walking through the aisles and started thinking oh, it would be cool to add potato chips to some chocolate chip cookies or maybe peanut butter filled pretzels! It really depends on my mood but for me a great chocolate chip cookie has a few key components. It definitely has to have a great chocolate quality. The chocolate shouldn’t be dry, it should be warm and soft not just a little chip…I like to use baking chocolate (Ed Note: she means bulk baking chocolate, not unsweetened) and you can taste the salt…there should be salt but also a balance between sweet and salt. The salt should hit your mouth and tongue and they should be crispy and chewy…when you bake it , it rises and then it falls and if you get the perfect fall, it crinkles a little bit and its got that vanilla and brown and white sugar…
Oh, great description. I have a thing about baking powder in chocolate chip cookies. I don’t usually like it. Where do you stand?
I actually use equal amounts baking powder and baking soda…
Hmm, I haven’t made a recipe with equal amounts. I am going to try that.
Mindy, thank you so much for your time. I love the book and I wish you all the luck with it…and cant wait to see what you write about next.
(Ed Note: We made her chocolate chip cookies in the Test Kitchen and they were a huge hit. They were the best baking powder included version we have tasted. My fiancé was eating one and out of nowhere said “These are damn good cookies. Damn good cookies!” Now, you can imagine how many cookies her has access to, so this is saying something. Indeed they had that “perfect fall” and crinkly, brown sugary deliciousness. Mindy said chocolate chip cookies must taste great without the chocolate, and these do. Great dough.)