One of the reasons I collaborate on cookbooks is to pick up new tricks. Every book I’ve co-written has given me plenty of new ideas to apply to my own cooking style.
With A16 Food + Wine, it was the wonderful world of Campania–particularly its wines (Fiano!), citrus fruit, peppers, and tuna conserva. I learned how easy it is to cook an octopus. With The Preservation Kitchen, it was an understanding about acidity and botulism and, basically, how to not be freaked out about canning. I learned that pickling liquid makes a great base for vinaigrette. With SPQR Modern Italian Food + Wine, it was ancient-meets-modern Italy, with its fast-paced cities and autostrade and its slow-paced foods and wines. I learned that a sharp pair of scissors is much better at trimming delicate herbs and vegetables than a knife.
The most recent book project is Cookie Love, or what I lovingly refer to as The Mindy Cookie Project. For this one, I dove down a dessert rabbit hole with Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate in Chicago. I’ve always liked to bake. But before The Mindy Project began, I had never made basic pastry things, like hot fudge. (This was quickly remedied–Mindy’s recipe is foolproof.) Since working on this book, I have had plenty of opportunities to hone my skills in pastry technique.
For this book, most of the shortbread dough needs to be rolled out into a flat sheet, like you would if rolling out pie crust. Then you can bust out the cookie cutters. I am decently proficient with a rolling pin, but I’m always looking for ways to make the rolling process faster and less fussy. Sometimes you want to spot-treat a too-thick area that’s too small to warrant a whole rolling pin, for example. Mindy had a solution. She introduced me to the dough roller.
Holy smokes–where has this tool been all my life? A simple contraption that looks like a smallish paint roller, a dough roller is excellent for flattening out small sections of dough. If a side is just a tad too thick, running the dough roller lightly over the surface smooths it out. I found one at Sur La Table, and it ran me all of $12.
How to use it:
The following series of photos shows a technique that will be included in Cookie Love. A dough roller makes it easy to flatten shortbread into a pan, a handy trick when layered bar cookies, like lemon squares. Here, I’ve showed how to smooth a layer of graham cracker shortbread that will be used in a blondie-inspired bar cookie.
What you do is smoosh the shortbread into the base of the pan as well as you can with your fingers. You then cover the surface with a piece of plastic wrap. Passing the roller over the shortbread, you smooth out all the bumps on the surface. Peel off the plastic and then proceed.
I like using a dough roller so much that sometimes I forget to use my rolling pin. The compact roller is cute and useful, and although it isn’t quite multi-use (it won’t slice and dice and blend like the Super Bass-O-Matic), it has found a permanent place in my toolbox.