Monday, December 15, 2008

Book Review: Great Cookies

Carole Walter's Great Cookies stands out as a perfect example of what a cookbook should be: highly well researched and tested, clear directions, and extremely successful recipes. Anyone looking for a great volume on cookies needs to look no further.

The book is broken out into chapters based on cookie type, beginning with your simplest drop cookies, and ending with a chapter on more complicated meringue confections. Chapters cover cookie varieties including icebox cookies, piped cookies, rolled cookies, bars, and biscotti. There is also a wonderful chapter on cookies from around the world, which provides a great introduction to a lot of new types of cookies (for me, Sicilian Wine Cookies), or just top quality recipes for classics (like Linzer Tarts).

Following the all the recipe chapters is a critical section left out of many cookbooks: technique and ingredients!!! In so many cookbooks, (like the mass-produced Food Network star cookbooks), big, gorgeous photos take the place of what you really need a recipe for: instruction. Great Cookies provides recipes for classic cookie buttercreams, glazes, and fillings, as well as pages of ingredient explanation. Each ingredient gets its own paragraph that details how to choose a quality product, how temperature and other factors affect the ingredient, and the role it serves in your baking. Understanding, for example, the different properties and functions of butter really serve to improve your results. I can't stress the importance of this, and Walter goes beyond what's necessary, including wonderful extras that compare the quality of different chocolate brands, or tell you where to find obscure ingredients.

The book is explicitly clear every step of a recipe, almost to the point of tedium (but better that than not enough!). Walter goes as far as to tell you exactly how many minutes to mix, how many long to spend pouring sugar in, and gives details on exactly what the batter or dough will look like every step of the way. It's critical for a novice baker, and great for an experienced one too, because if you follow these exacting instructions, your cookies really will come out perfect. The only downside of this is that I find if you're just starting out baking, it will hinder your creativity a little (all those exacting instructions can make you a little nervous to play around!)

The photographs in the book are also wonderful. There is a photo provided for nearly every recipe, helping you see how your cookies should look. The book may not use photos to substitute for quality, but it doesn't neglect the importance of visuals when it comes to food. Think about it: would online blogs be so successful if the author didn't provide pictures? It's important not to neglect the aesthetics.

But lastly, the cookbook succeeds in the most important of ways: the recipes are a success. So many cookbooks provide recipes that are decent but really don't blow you away. Ninety five percent of the cookies in this book will make you discard your old favorite recipes. You can trust that if you're making it for guests, even if it's your first time trying the recipe, it'll come out good. And that, to me, is the ultimate sign of a great cookbook.

1 comment:

njusaguy said...

I totally agree. I swear by this book as far as cookies go. Have only scratched the surface, but haven't had a recipe in here go wrong yet. Couple of my favorites I'd highly recommend: Chocolate Cappuccino Cheesecake Squares (I don't like coffee flavor, but these are amazing); Aniseplatzchen (incredible texture; of course, gotta like anise flavor to appreciate these). Love the blog!