You might not think there would be much to learn at a cooking class about cookies, but that really depends on who’s teaching the class. I signed up for a cookie class at Central Market Cooking School last December that was taught by Alice Medrich, and I walked away with a few pages of notes. She was demonstrating cookies from her new book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies which combines some of her all-time, favorite recipes with updates for what everyone likes to cook today. I shared some photos from the class on my Facebook page as well. Throughout the class, little, eye-opening details, the kinds of things that don’t always get mentioned, were pointed out and explained. She talked about how a home cook needs to decode a recipe. When a cookie recipe states to whip or cream something “just until,” it’s important to pay close attention and not overdo it. There are times when the butter and sugar should not be creamed to a point where it’s too light and fluffy as that can add too much air to the dough. She continued to talk as she worked, and turned a square baking pan upside down, cut a piece of foil, and wrapped it over the bottom of the pan. Then, she flipped the pan over and placed the foil inside it. I’d never thought of doing that to get the foil to the right size and shape to line the inside of a pan for brownies. Then, she spoke of flavors and adding different spices to brownies or chocolate cookies. Rather than mixing the spice into the batter or dough, it can be sprinkled on top after baking. That way, you have a different flavor experience. You smell the spice as soon as you lift the item toward your mouth, and it’s more pronounced. Also, then you can flavor one batch several different ways. So, the evening progressed with several different cookie recipes being prepped and then tasted. Every cookie we were served was fantastic, but the one I couldn’t stop thinking about over a month later was the peanut butter cloud.
This is in Medrich’s new book, and it’s a simple meringue cookie with a swirl of peanut butter running through it. Ordinarily, a meringue serves as a vehicle for other flavors, but here, the added peanut butter was mixed into the sweet, crisp, light as air cookie and chopped salted peanuts were sprinkled on for added crunch. Egg whites were whisked in a mixer with cream of tartar and eventually, sugar was added. During the class, Medrich pointed out that if you add the sugar too early while whisking the egg whites, you’ll get a glossy but limp meringue. For firmer meringue, add the sugar, after the whites have become opaque, very slowly over a two minute period. Then, dot the top of the meringue with well-stirred, natural peanut butter, and just barely fold it into the egg whites. The peanut butter should be streaked throughout the meringue. I piped the meringue into small cookie-cloud shapes onto baking sheets and topped them with the chopped nuts. The cookies baked at 200 degrees F for one and a half hours, and then they remained in the oven after it was turned off until they were cool.
The crackly texture and the sweetness of the meringue mixed with peanut butter and salted chopped peanuts just worked so well together. Thankfully, my home-baked versions stood up to my memory of them from the class. And, now I need to finish reading through the book to get several new ideas for what to bake next.