Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cookies through the years

I enjoy reading a good cookbook, not just the recipes, but the stories that sometimes come along with them.

At the Wilson County Public Library recently, I came across a cookbook that I thoroughly enjoyed. "The Gourmet Cookie Book" is a collection of cookie recipes from the magazine -- one per year from 1941 to 2009 --as varied as Moravian white Christmas cookies from 1946 to butter cookies with jam in 1984.

Each recipe is accompanied by a description of the cookie and a lovely but simple photograph that shows off the cookie.

In addition to offering recipes, the cookbook tells a story of how cooking and cooking magazines have evolved from the ingredients we use to the way we write recipes.

The first year, a recipe for Cajun macaroons appeared in a menu for a Mardi Gras party in New Orleans. Although the recipe was time-consuming, the book states, it was popular with readers and was requested often.

For the book, Gourmet decided to leave the recipes as they were published in the original form, with instructions such as "bake in a hot oven." However, the editors tested the recipes and put in notes to clarify temperatures and ingredients and to offer an easier (or more modern) way to make the cookies.

For instance, for the October 1960 recipe for pine nut macaroons, the editors suggest using a food processor to grind blanched almonds, and they tell you "breakfast cocoa" in the ingredients for February 1950s chocolate wafer is unsweetened cocoa.

Some years, there were few cookie recipes in the magazine. In 1962, there was only one cookie recipe the entire year, and that was for cottage cheese cookies, described in the current book this way: "Cottage cheese in cookies might sound strange, but it is much like ricotta, lending a subtle tang that mellows a sugar cookie into something nuanced and very lovely." I want to make this cookie.

Mixed into the descriptions of the cookies are details about the magazine in relation to the world at large. The 1944 recipe for cinnamon cookie crisps gave advice for things to put in a care package to send to a soldier.

Dining trends are also noted in the book. The 1989 recipe for cornetti, or almond cookies, reflects America's passion for Italian food that year, and cranberry pistachio biscotti showed a love for trendy biscotti.

There were so many recipes in this book I'd like to try, but the one I chose to make was lemon thins from the April 1976 Gourmet. I was almost 14 at the time it was published in the magazine. My sister and I always loved lemon cookies and the photograph reminded me of ones we ate as children. The note with this recipe says this was the first time since the end of World War II that Gourmet devoted an entire story to cookies.

The lemon cookies were easy to make and were delicious. They are very simple and not too sweet. They also stayed soft the next day.

Look for "The Gourmet Cookie Book" at the library or bookstore. It makes good reading and provides a wonderful source for some delicious cookie recipes.

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