By Maida Heatter, Little, Brown and Company, 272 pages, $28
When the folks at Little, Brown and Company selected a quote for the opening pages of Maida Heatter’s new collection of favorite cookie recipes, they could hardly have known how apropos their choice would be. Across from the copyright page of Cookies Are Magic: Classic Cookies, Brownies, Bars, and More, a colorful page reads, “I heard about a doctor talking on television about the dangers of stress. The doctor listed ways of coping with stress. Exercise. Diet. Yoga. Take a walk. I yelled, ‘Bake cookies.’” To the best of my knowledge, no physicians, government officials, or even friends and family have yet to recommended baking cookies to combat the current specific form of stress, but we should absolutely add it to the list. Even if you’re a novice baker, Heatter — a renowned pastry chef and cookbook author often known as “the Queen of Cake” — has your back. As blogger and author Deb Perelman ensures us in her foreword, “Maida’s recipes make you feel as though she’s in the kitchen with you, coaching you along, encouraging you. … Her recipes are precise but friendly, and you feel certain she’s having fun in the kitchen.” Cookies are Magic is particularly well suited for your quarantine pantry, which may be less than ideally stocked. Several recipes lean on relatively brief lists of ingredients you’re likely to have on hand — modest amounts of butter, sugar, and flour embellished with nuts, chocolate chips, oats, peanut butter, or common spices. It’s hard to go wrong with, say, vanilla butter wafers, which are the comforting cookie equivalent of buttered noodles or rice. Many methods are easy and quick, while a few others make good projects for bored children, teens, or grownups. Everyone in your household can cut a favorite shape in the Plain Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookie dough, while the intrepid may prefer more intensive undertakings like Pinwheels and Checkerboards. Because of the chilling required, icebox cookies like this require hours — sometimes days — to complete, making them just right for the current blur of days.
Sites across the web currently offer virtual tours of famous sites and cities so we can visit them from the comfort and safety of our homes. Over the years, Heatter collected recipes from around the world, and Cookies Are Magic amounts to a cookie-based excursion, transporting you via sweet treats to far-flung locations like Italy, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Austria, Cuba, Sweden, the Caribbean, and France, as well as stateside settings like Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; St. Augustine, Florida; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; New Orleans, Louisiana; and the states of New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, Connecticut, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and California. And yes, even our beloved New Mexico is represented by an icebox riff on the classic chocolate chip cookie made with finely chopped morsels. The only thing you might miss is photographs. Alice Oehr’s colorful, whimsical illustrations — including one of the author on the back flap of the book jacket — are delightful, but they squarely exclude this book from the annals of “food porn.”
“You don’t make cookies if you’re hassled. It’s not like pot roast — you don’t have to make cookies,” writes Heatter in her introduction. “My philosophy is that cookies are fun — pure, simple fun.” The author passed away last summer at the impressive age of 102, and I’m sure she would’ve been happy to know that her final collection provides some much-needed fun and stress reduction during these strange, unnerving times. “Cookies are love, the love of making them and the love of sharing them,” she professed, and I know we could all use a little more of that right now, too.
VANILLA BUTTER WAFERS
These thin, buttery rounds will be brown and crisp on the edges, light and slightly soft on the tops. They’re simple, easy cookies to make but are extremely delicate and fragile. This recipe makes only 24 — double it if you wish. Note: If you make the dough rounds too large or place them too close to each other on the cookie sheets, they will run together.
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter 1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour
Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with baking parchment. In the small bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the vanilla and the sugar and beat very well for 2 to 3 minutes more. On low speed, add the flour, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating only until smooth. Transfer the dough to a shallow bowl for ease in handling.
Use a slightly rounded spoonful of the dough for each cookie (keep these small). If you place the dough neatly and carefully, the cookies will bake into perfect rounds, which is the way they should be. Place the mounds of dough 3 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the edges are well browned. Reverse the sheets top to bottom and front to back once to ensure even browning. With a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to racks to cool.
From Cookies Are Magic by Maida Heatter