At last week's annual conference for the International Association of Culinary Professionals, awards were presented for the best cookbooks of the year. In the Baking category, the award was given to Alice Medrich for her excellent cookie book, Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies. Medrich is the author of 10 books--two James Beard award winners among them--and has devoted her latest book to cookies because "they invite creativity and reward experimentation."
Make no mistake, however--the experimentation is generally for Medrich to work out and for you to reap the benefits of. Her variations on the beloved chocolate-chip cookie, for example, include wheat-free, thin & crispy, and whole-wheat. She has a recipe for shortbread using kamut flour. Her recipe for ginger cookies uses dried, fresh, and candied ginger. And in snickerdoodles, Medrich suggested upgrading them with the addition of freshly grated nutmeg.
Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies is divided into sections based on each of those five textures, plus Flaky and Chunky. Want gooey cookies and bars? Go straight to the Gooey chapter for recipes like caramel-cheesecake bars and espresso-swirl brownies. Want crisp, dunkable cookies with tea or coffee? The Crunchy chapter has recipes for graham crackers and amaretti, and biscotti variations that include a less-fat version. Many recipes in the book suggest "upgrades," such as swapping one spice or nut for another. Other recipes have "tech support" tips like substituting bittersweet chocolate for unsweetened chocolate in the Black Bottom Pecan Praline Bars, and buying almond meal instead of making your own for the French macarons.
Baking books--and bakers--are known for their precision, and Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy is no different. Medrich tricks readers into reading the introduction (a section many readers foolishly ignore) by presenting her tips, precise methods, and techniques in a FAQ format. It works. Instead of skimming the section, you get drawn in to read every question to see if yours is answered. As a result, Medrich is able to impart her experience and wisdom for things like chilling cookie dough, measuring by weight versus volume, and rotating cookie sheets.
In the appendix are recipes for components like lemon curd, dulce de leche, and buttercream. There is also information on ingredients, where Medrich has the opportunity to explain why she likes to use things like cacao nibs, unsweetened coconut, and pure vanilla extract. And the "smart search" section in the back of the book organizes recipes into categories like dairy-free and wheat-free, cookies with less fat and ones that will freeze well, so you can find a recipe to fit your specific needs.