I started writing this post numerous times, trying to figure out how to just come out and say it. I skirted around the issue. I sugar-coated it. But here, I’ll just come out with it: I stole this cookbook. No really, I full-on stole it. And it’s fabulous. Now let me explain: This fall, I was an intern at a local weekly paper here in San Francisco. It started out strong with assignments, bad coffee, and seminars touching on San Francisco history and politics. I was engaged. I envisioned a future with me traipsing about the city covering local food and culture. I wouldn’t make much money, but I’d be happy. And well-fed. But in a very short time, the support faded and I found myself at a dark, windowless desk trying to look busy and not sulk that nothing I ever wrote seemed to make it to the right person’s desk. The scheduling of the internship was such that I couldn’t accept a full-time job anywhere, and I was the oldest intern by a solid ten years. I kept telling myself it could go somewhere. Who knows? In the meantime, I got to know Twitter. I did a little online shopping. I taught myself photo editing techniques, and learned a little hmtl code. I even wrote letters to relatives I hadn’t seen in way too long.
The high point of each day was checking the mail. I spent way more time on the task than my fellow interns, making piles for the appropriate editors and studying the upcoming events and book releases to see what might be worth checking out. And then, there were the days when publishers and PR folks would send books, cd’s, free tickets and the like. So now you can see where this is going. On a particularly dreary and stormy afternoon, my editor received a recipe compilation from the editors at Food & Wine entitled, Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes. In it, the they’d gone through the most exciting cookbooks from 2009 and pulled their favorite dishes. Ah hah. It must be mine. I looked around and slid it into my welcoming messenger bag. I know, I know–stealing’s never good. Even if you are a jaded, overqualified intern. And after a mere few hours, my conscience started to get the best of me. So I left a note. It went a little something like this. Dear ______ (overworked editor): You got a cookbook in the mail today and I’m borrowing it for research purposes. Let me know if you ever need it back. Thanks, Megan (intern in the back left corner). There. Phew. Now it wasn’t technically stealing. And guess what? The editor that rarely published my pieces also never checks her mail. Imagine that. Three months later, that note’s probably still sitting there. Lucky for us because now I can share these cookies with you.
Now I’m the kind of gal that sticks to a recipe once I find one I like. I commit to it wholeheartedly. I’ve got my rock-solid pie crust recipe, my favorite brownie recipe, the best onion casserole you’ll ever taste. So I don’t often set out looking for other pie crust recipes or new and better brownies. And with snickerdoodles, I’m faithful to Magnolia Bakery’s recipe. They’re thin and chewy with a crackled sugar top and a classic sunken center. I’m particularly fond of crumbling them over vanilla ice cream and berries in the summer or eating them right out of the oven with a cup of milky coffee in the winter. That being said, I was intrigued by Mani Niall’s recipe for Cinnamon Cardamom Snickerdoodles from Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes. The recipe is pulled from Niall’s book, Sweet! in which he explores recipes using all different kinds of natural sweeteners (this is one of the few recipes using white sugar) such as agave, honey, and muscovado sugar. He aims to improve familiar recipes by varying the sweeteners to avoid processed sugars and blood-sugar spikes. I’ll be honest. I wasn’t drawn to this recipe for any of those reasons. I simply love cardamom and had never considered using it with a classic snickerdoodle recipe. The result is quite magical.
Cardamom is a spice that’s used in a lot of Indian and Middle Eastern dishes for it’s complex, aromatic, spicy-sweetness. It dresses up these cookies like nothing else. If your typical snickerdoodle is good afternoon snacking fare, these are racier–more apt for late night kitchen forays. Now snickerdoodles are tough to muck up. So I hope you decide to give these a try, and I hope my old editor isn’t reading the blog. It’s a very, very safe bet she’s not. I’m willing to bet this stolen cookbook on it.
While this was an excellent recipe just the way it was, I did adapt it slightly using just a dash less cardamom. I like the subtle warmth the spice brings to the cookies, but I found 1 1/2 tsp. sufficiently conveyed that. I also used ground cardamom instead of grinding my own like Niall suggests. She raises an important point that spices lose their freshness quickly, but I had just purchased the cardamom and it was used so sparingly that I’m happy with the results. If you’d like to use fresh cardamom, grind the seeds from 20 cardamom pods in an electric spice grinder, mini food processor, or mortar/pestle and use immediately.
Slightly adapted from: Sweet!
For Spiced Sugar:
Position oven racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt (This is important, to completely combine the cream of tarter and baking soda, and to break up any clumps). Beat the butter and sugar in a medium-size bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until the mixture is light in color and texture, about 3 minutes. One at a time, beat in the eggs, then the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low. In four equal additions, add the flour mixture, beating the dough until it’s smooth after each addition.
To make the spiced sugar, combine the ground cardamom, sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Using a level tablespoon of dough for each cookie, roll the dough into walnut-size balls. A few at a time, toss the balls in the spiced sugar to coat, and place about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Sprinkle the tops of each cookie with a bit of the spiced sugar.
Bake until the edges of the cookies are crisp and lightly browned, but the centers are still a bit soft, 8-10 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheet halfway through baking. Cool on the sheets for a few minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.