12 Days of Local Christmas, 2010: Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Cookies

Growing up the Bay Area, it feels like I have been surrounded by good food all my life. But that is not exactly true. Or, if it is true, then I definitely did not notice it until I was a teenager. As a teen, I remember taking the bus to Stanford Shopping Center, just to visit Cocolat, a wonderful patisserie, very much in the French-style, with beautiful chocolate cakes and handmade truffles. And with this experience, I realized that good food was worth the extra effort, even a 35 minute city bus ride.

I feel as though the early 80’s were a time of change in the local food culture in San Francisco Bay Area. Alice Waters was gaining traction at Chez Panisse and encouraging the local food movement; ethnic foods were moving into the mainstream; and Alice Medrich was bringing the chocolate truffle to the masses. With my first taste of a truffles, and with each subsequent chocolate cookbook, I have become a huge fan of Alice Medrich’s work and when the opportunity to interview Alice was presented, I jumped on it!

On a many-city book tour, Alice visited Fog City News in San Francisco last week to promote her new book, Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies, a collection of old and new recipes, designed to be a one-stop-source for all your cookie-baking needs. I was able to sit down and talk with her before the book signing and tasting, and learned a few interesting factoids:

– The first thing Alice ever cooked in the kitchen was apple pie dough scraps with cinnamon and sugar
– In elementary school, Alice’s teachers were mostly strong, interesting, single women who inspired her, but sometimes made her cry
– After graduating with a degree in Latin American history, Alice took off for a post-doc in Paris. Her favorite souvenir was a French truffle recipe provided by her host mother.
– Alice’s favorite chocolate is Scharffenberger, another East Bay original
– Alice’s favorite food to eat, outside of chocolate, is fresh fish and shellfish
– And the strangest chocolate-food combination she ever tried was Asparagus with cacao nibs

We also spent some time talking about the differences between the books, and I discovered that since my favorite Cookies and Brownies is no longer in print, the new Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy is an update along with many new cookie and brownie recipes. Alice has new entries for Gluten-Free baking, as well as whole grain flours and reduced fat options. She also played around with many of her standards and provides new-and-improved versions. I baked both the Anzac Cookie and Rocky Road Bars, both which were gobbled up by the family. The book is easy to follow, the recipes are well written, and my only complaint is that there are not enough pictures. I like how the book is divided out into sections by texture of cookie, which makes it easy to find something based on what your taste buds are in the mood for.

So, for my last day of the 12 Days of Local Christmas, I give you a cookbook written by an author and food expert whose influence on the exciting food culture that exists in the Bay Area is well known and appreciated. And I also give you a recipe, one of Alice’s favorites, since she is currently on a sesame seed kick!

Sesame Sticks

from Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt-in-your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich
Irresistible to sesame lovers, these thin, addictively crunchy yet delicate cookies pack a wallop of flavor.

makes thirty-six to forty-six 4- or 5-inch sticks

1 1/4 cups (5.625 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (4.625 ounces) sugar
1/3 cup (1.625 ounces) lightly toasted sesame seeds (see page 397)
1/3 cup (1.125 ounces) ground blanched almonds
Scant 3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cold water

A 5-x-9-inch loaf pan (optional), lined on the bottom and sides with foil
Cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper or greased

Put the flour, sugar, sesame seeds, almonds, and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives until the butter is reduced to small pieces. With the fingertips of both hands, lightly toss and rub the mixture together until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine the vanilla and water in a small pitcher or cup. Stir the flour and butter mixture with a fork while drizzling the water and vanilla into the bowl. Continue to toss and stir lightly with the fork or your fingers until all of the dry ingredients are slightly damp. The dough should remain crumbly and stick together only when pinched (see Tips for Sticks, page 56).

If using a loaf pan, dump the mixture into the lined pan and spread it evenly. Press it very firmly, making a thin layer. Or dump the mixture onto a piece of foil on a baking sheet and distribute it evenly over an area about 4 by 9 or 10 inches. Press it firmly, squaring up the edges, to make an even compact layer about 1/2 inch thick. Fold the foil over the dough and wrap it tightly. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Unwrap the dough and transfer it to a cutting board. Use a long sharp knife to cut the dough crosswise into 1/4-inch (or thinner if possible) slices. Use the knife to transfer each slice to the lined or greased cookie sheets, placing the slices 1 inch apart. The slices will be fragile and require the support of the knife in transit; the results will be worth your careful effort.

Bake for 12 to 18 minutes, until the cookies are golden with golden brown edges. Rotate the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.

For lined pans, set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool; for unlined pans, use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to racks. Cool the cookies completely before stacking or storing.

May be kept in an airtight container for several days.

Disclosure: I did receive a copy of Alice’s new book for review, however, the review and my adoration of Alice are mine alone and were no way influenced by a book that I could have bought on Amazon for $16.42. This kind of admiration has no price tag!