Thursday, April 5, 2012

One Sunday With Dorie

Dorie works her magic.
I should have known. I was crashing at Dorie Greenspan's pad during last weekend's IACP conference in New York, and when I asked if I might use her kitchen to bake some cookies, she didn't just say yes. She chirped, "Of course! Let's bake them together!"

I had a little moment of intimidation. Correction: I had more than just a little moment. I mean, as sweet as she is -- and, if you've never met her, I honestly can't think of anyone in the food world I find more delightful -- she still is Dorie Greenspan. As in, multiple award winner for such cookbooks as "Around My French Table," "Baking From My Home to Yours," "Baking With Julia," "Desserts by Pierre Herme," and more. As in, founder of CookieBar, an online boutique that pops up in the real-live world from time to time -- and causes a sensation whenever it does.

So you can imagine why, as I gathered ingredients and prepared to bake cookies with her, the following question might pop into my head: Why are we working with one of my recipes, and not one of hers? 

Well, it's because I had a book expo to participate in, and I know that nothing will get people to stop and look at your book more effectively than food, particularly a good cookie. But it needs to be from the book you're hawking, right? Of course. My Cardamom Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles have helped me sell "Serve Yourself" many times before, so I figured they wouldn't let me down this time, either.

Dorie and I love chatting, so I worried that there was a slight chance we would be slow in the kitchen as we distracted one another with questions and stories and tangents from stories into other stories. But it turns out, Dorie doesn't really get all that easily distracted, as much as she might beg to differ. She kept right on baking as we talked, never missing a beat.

One of the most fascinating things about the experience was how I immediately took a much more critical look at my recipe. I had cobbled it together after being inspired by many sources and then deciding to put my own spin -- the cardamom, particularly -- on this childhood favorite of mine. My mom had made them with shortening, white sugar and cinnamon, and I loved them, but the first time I tried them with this particular combination, I was hooked. Cardamom has that haunting, mysterious flavor that makes it one of my favorite spices, and using it brought these squarely into adulthood.

But why did I use cream of tartar and baking soda, when I could have just used baking powder? Hmm. Not sure. I just do! Why do I cream the sugar and butter on high speed, and for such a long time? Well, I want to get it nice and fluffy before putting in the eggs, the vanilla, then the dry ingredients. Dorie knew the answers to these questions. As for the cream of tartar, she theorized, I must have been basing the cookie on an old recipe (and it is indeed an old cookie), one that preceded wide availability of baking powder. When it came to the fluffy creaming, she answers that question on her blog, in her own take on our baking session: It's because snickerdoodles need to puff up and then deflate and crackle in order to become, well, a snickerdoodle. As soon as I saw that answer, I recalled much cakier versions of this cookie, and I recalled how I didn't like those so much.

Should you try this
at home?
I picked up lots of other little tips from Dorie, just by watching her do what she does without even thinking about it. At one point, while the butter and sugar were creaming in her circa 1973 white KitchenAid stand mixer (one of six she keeps in her three homes), she popped one side of the bowl off its little seating (you certainly won't find this in the manual), and lifted it up a quarter-inch or so, just enough to get the beaters to hit the bottom of the bowl. She grabbed a chopstick and showed me how she wedges it in to keep the thing stable. She says she does something similar when beating egg whites: She doesn't fully seat the wire whisk, and it drags the bottom a little more. "You'll wear out the whisk more quickly this way, but it's worth it, because you'll get much better egg whites," she said.

When I was combining the dry ingredients, Dorie showed me another favorite tip. With a mound of flour in the bowl, she likes to dump each ingredient in a separate little mound along the edge of the bowl, so she can see them distinctly as she goes, and can tell if she's missing anything. "Plus, it looks pretty," she said.

My favorite tip, though, was something I probably should have been able to figure out on my own, because it makes so much common sense. When we had made the batter, which needed an hour in the fridge (or a shorter run in the freezer, of course), she had me scrape it out onto a baking sheet instead, smoothing it to about an inch thick, and covering it in plastic, so that -- naturally -- it would firm up so much more quickly.

Dorie sprinkles Dorie dust --
OK, it's really cardamom sugar.
When all was said and done (or said and baked, dusted and cooled), Dorie took a bite of one of the cookies and smiled. "That's a really nice cookie," she said. "I love the cardamom, of course, and I love how they're crispy on the edges and soft on the inside."

I couldn't think of a better compliment. And when I took them to the book expo, and sat each one of them on a business card for better marketing, more than one person who came by remembered that Dorie and I had each Tweeted about the baking session. "Are those the Dorie cookies?" they would ask.

"Well, it's my recipe, but I baked them with Dorie," I replied. "And she sprinkled her Dorie dust all over them, so you know that helped." Indeed, it had.

Back at the homestead in Maine, on Tuesday night over dinner, my sister asked me what my favorite part of the conference weekend had been, and I didn't have to think too hard. Sure, there were stimulating panel discussions (Dan Barber on farm-to-table, Nathalie Dupree & Co. on mentoring, Kim Severson quizzing Neal Barnard on veganism); delectable meals (arroz a la plancha at Tertulia, raw vegan Philly roll at Pure Food & Wine, braised fennel in pea soup at Kajitsu, asparagus with ramp vinaigrette at Dovetail); and fun networking (I accosted Tamar Adler, Francis Lam, Mo Rocca and more at the awards reception). 

But the answer was none of the above.

"Baking with Dorie," I said.

Cardamom Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles
From “Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One” (Ten Speed Press, 2011).

Makes about 84 cookies

2 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar, for rolling

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, 1 teaspoon of the cardamom and the salt in a large bowl.

Combine the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and beat until very light and fluffy, 2 or 3 minutes, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce the speed to medium and beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla extract. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add about one-third of the dry ingredients; beat on low speed until fully incorporated. Repeat two more times, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Cover and refrigerate for about an hour, until firm.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, positioning the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Stir together the granulated sugar and remaining 1 teaspoon of cardamom in a medium bowl. Use a #100 disher (a 3/4-tablespoon scoop) or a tablespoon to scoop small balls of dough, a few at a time, into the sugar-cardamom mixture, then roll the pieces to coat them and lightly roll them into balls between your palms, pressing the sugar mixture into the dough. Arrange the cookies 2 inches apart on each baking sheet.

Bake two sheets at a time for 5 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back. Bake for 4 to 6 minutes, until the tops of the cookies are crackled and the edges are just barely browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before serving or storing. Use a strainer to sift any extra cardamom-sugar mixture onto the cookies (this will keep separate any clumps of dough that might be left in the sugar).


  1. Delightful post. I'm jealous that you got to spend so much time with one of my favorite people.

  2. Blush, blush. Thank you, thank you. And merci too. It was endless fun to bake together and too delicious to have those snickerdoodles with coffee. I'm using the last of the cardamom-sugar and thinking of you. xo

  3. What a great post! I don't know if I've ever cooked or baked with cardamom, but I know any time I taste it how intoxicating it is: Even though I'm pretty partial to cinnamon, it seems like this might be a pretty worthy snickerdoodle substitution.

    (G-d, but the word "snickerdoodle" is hard to take terribly seriously, isn't it??)

  4. She is the best! Dorie, thanks for your help -- and the time in the kitchen. Can't wait for the next! Erin, it's true, the word is pretty funny. One of my faves to say, along with spatchcock and kumquat. Maybe we need spatchcocked kumquat snickerdoodles?

  5. Dorie is simply the best! I, too, lift up one side of my vintage Kitchen Aid, but the idea of stabilizing it with a chopstick is brilliant. Thanks, Dorie and Joe.

  6. Hello Joe:

    Nice to meet you.

    I had to laugh out loud (no offence).
    Cooking for 1 produces 84 cookies?

    Boy that's an appetite!

    I love cardamon, and yes the odd cookie, so I'm going to try these.
    I just know the grand babies will love Grandma's Cookies.

    My granddaughter told her Mother. Everything tastes better at Grandma's. She's three.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Charlie, you caught me! One guy eats seven dozen cookies! Seriously, in my book I write about how the beauty of these is that you can freeze the dough balls and then just bake off as many -- or as few -- as you like. Even one or two!

  7. Joe, I love your closing remark "Baking With Dorie!" You and Dorie share a generous heart in the kitchen and with food. I loved reading your story. Thank yoj for sharing your cookie.

    1. Thanks, AR! The pleasure was all mine.

  8. Oh, thank you so much for posting this! My son has a reaction to cinnamon and I will most definitely make these. How fortunate you were to get to bake with Dorie! She seems like such a wonderful person and it looks as though you two had a delightful time. Thank you again!!

    1. Tracy, I had no idea when developing this cookie that it might benefit people like you and your son. So glad you like my spice swap!

  9. How did I miss having one of these cookies?! At least I got to have dinner with you...though sadly, not with Dorie. There's always next year, when we will once again share a dinner filled with laughter.
    But before then, I will make myself these cookies, which sound divine.

    1. It was so great to see you again this year, Marge. We should invite Dorie next year!

  10. What I would have given to be a fly on the wall during your baking adventure!! Snickerdoodles are among my favorite cookies and combining them with cardamom is brilliant. You and Dorie are quite a team. Thnx.

    1. We clearly have kindred palates, Laura. So glad you like these!