More Testing, This Time with Frosting

oreo cookies with peppermint frosting

This week in Cookie Book Testing, I once again became acclimated to the pastry bag.

We are still working away at the unforgiving sandwich cookie chapter. I say unforgiving not because they are terrible—the opposite—but because they each have more than one component and all of the components (and their yields) have to be in harmony for the recipe to work every time.

folger's coffee shortbread

Mindy Segal, my coauthor, is an expert sandwich cookie maker. I have become convinced that if all the fans of cupcake and cake pops ate one of her sandwich cookies instead, the majority would abandon their cupcakes and cake pops indefinitely. Such is the power of these sandwich cookies.

Most of the cookies are shortbread. The fillings vary, but many have the texture of buttercream. Early into the recipe testing, I asked Mindy how she would like to fill the sandwich cookies.

“With an offset spatula?” I suggested.

“Kate. I am a pastry chef. I pipe the fillings.”

Milanos with whipped hot fudge

And so I drove to Spun Sugar in Berkeley to acquire a few Ateco tips and a new bag to finish making the cookies.

Years ago, I wielded a large pastry bag to pipe the choux paste for éclairs at La Farine, a bakery in Oakland. The worst part of the job was cleaning the pastry bag afterwards. Choux paste is stubborn stuff.

Smoked almond shortbread with frosting and raspberry jam

These days, few professionals use the cloth bags that I remember from La Farine. It is faster to use the plastic disposable ones. I bought a cloth and a plastic one to see which fared best. It was a tie in performance, but for baking at home, a reusable bag is more economical in the long run.

The first cookie fillings I piped with an unsteady hand. By batch 3, however, I was back in the swing of things. The Ateco tips come numbered. An 803 is a large tip; a 35 is a small, star-like tip. The 803 was easier to maneuver than the 35, which became jammed up with a chunk of peppermint—a messy incident.

The trick when using a pastry bag is to press the filling from the top of the bag with one hand while using the other to gently guide the tip. I used the right hand to press, the left to guide (I am right-handed). I piped spirals, W’s, and lines.

sandwich cookie stacks

I topped the filling with another cookie and pressed gently in the center to adhere it. And then I shuffled the tray into the freezer where they await the finishing step: dipping in chocolate or caramel, or something entirely different.


Testing: A Cookie Book in Progress

measuring cups

The Mindy Cookie Project is moving ahead with winds of gale force. This is one pastry chef who is not short on creative ideas.

Such as:

  • hot fudge as jam for thumbprints
  • brown butter in graham cookies and citrus shortbread
  • halvah pureed into a vanilla filling for sandwich cookies
  • Brazil nut cookies that pair magically with milk chocolate
  • Goat butter every which way

I spent a good part of yesterday mixing doughs for the sandwich cookie chapter. I don’t have enough room for major production in my tiny kitchen, so I packed up all of the ingredients and schlepped them to my folks’ house. This has the added benefit of being able to spend time with my favorite dog and take a short break in the garden. (Seasonal allergies be damned.) Still, making a cookbook isn’t  a tidy process. Black cocoa–which is super fine and super concentrated–gets everywhere if you’re not careful. (I promise I scrubbed the place down after.)

Here’s a peak behind the curtain: [click to continue…]

Little Butter Buns from Nordic Bakery

Little Butter Buns from Nordic Bakery Cookbook
I used to be one of those feed-the-starter every day — sometimes twice a day—types of bread bakers. Part of me misses those days. But another part of me knows that I am rarely in the same place for enough consecutive days to reliably water a houseplant, let alone feed a sourdough starter.

I still want to try making the sprouted-grain pan loaves in Tartine Book No. 3, but the reality is that I have a very real cookie book deadline looming; any projects involving a string of spare days will have to wait. So breads that are less of a commitment to make have become more of a priority.


These sturdy rolls comes from Nordic Bakery Cookbook, a collection of recipes from London’s Nordic Bakery, which has three locations in the city. [click to continue…]

Heavenly Hots

heavenly hots

The chefs who eat up a lot of media attention today tend to be relatively new in the field— around 30 years old, with slick hairdos and nice sweater collections. But what happens 30 years later? [click to continue…]

Almost Worldess Wednesday

Oakland kitchen
Spring is in motion in Northern California. I’m about to leave it for a week to return to the polar vortex and attend the IACP conference in Chicago. But before I do some seasonal time travel, I thought I’d borrow a line from food writer and recipe developer Nicole Spiridakis’s playbook and try my hand at a near-wordless post.

Nicole is a California expat who lives in Morocco. Each week she runs a wordless Wednesday post on her blog, Cucina Nicolina, that shows what’s been catching her eye. For those of us who have more to read than we can keep up with, indulging in a minute of photo-based storytelling offers a welcome break from word crunching.

I’ve  gone over the word count for a genuinely wordless Wednesday post, so here is my almost-wordless Wednesday post: A partially rainy, partially sunny week in early March.

flowering manzanita [click to continue…]

Pinipig Cookies

pinipig cookies
One outcome of working on a book about cookies with Mindy Segal is how it’s made me want to make cookies all the time. If a day goes by without a new cookie recipe, I feel somehow incomplete, like a runner does when she misses her morning run. Although I suspect what I’m feeling is probably just sugar withdrawal.

I am also a sucker for cookie ideas that come from unexpected sources. When I was in Chicago, I paged through my friend Cecile’s cookbook Memories of Philippine Kitchens. [click to continue…]

The Mindy Cookie Project

leopard shortbread

I ‘ve been working almost daily with Mindy Segal on her book on cookies (due out next year with Ten Speed Press). When I was in Chicago, I acted like her shadow. It must have driven the James Beard-award winning pastry chef nuts (and maybe her staff, too, since I was often in the kitchen while they were trying prepare desserts and savory food for the restaurant), but she always took care of me. The thing about cookbook work is that you rarely go hungry doing it.

using all the cookie dough

About the cookies. [click to continue…]

End-of-January Updates

making salsa in a molcajete

It takes about a month to remember that a new year has started. By the end of January, writing “2014″ has started to feel mostly–though not completely–normal.

This year hasn’t wasted any time getting going, either. Last week I broke ground on a new cookbook with a Chicago pastry chef. It’s a sweet project in a literal and figurative sense. It’s still in the early stages, but I can say that the first round of testing is going well. The book is slated to be out next year.

I also met a terrific cookbook writer who will be [click to continue…]