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 had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
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.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.