5 Things I Learned About Cookies from Mindy Segal

The cool thing about writing single-subject cookbooks is being able to go deep into the subject. In Cookie Love, the book I wrote with Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate in Chicago, I could talk about the best cookie sheets to use, the secret to shaping and cutting out cookies, and how certain sugars or salts could change the game. I baked through an entire chapter all about shortbread cookies—and wrote two pages about the best ways to mix, roll out, and bake shortbread dough. From that experience, I can now use Mindy's basic shortbread recipe as a template to make up my own shortbread. It's pretty cool. And that's exactly what Mindy wanted to do in this book: get people to riff off her recipes. To do that, though, you need to give people a foundation from which to work.

With general books that also include recipes for pasta, vegetables, roast chicken, and so on, cookies get reserved for a few pages in the back, and the instruction has to be a little more general, a little shorter. There is nothing wrong with this! Sometimes that’s all you want. But when I get to do a deep dive—especially with someone as thorough as Mindy—I walk away with a lot more tricks of a very specific trade. Especially after baking batch after batch of cookies with her.

Mindy's tricks are woven throughout the book, but I wanted to point a few of them that can be overlooked. Especially now that the weather is cooling off and we can comfortably think about baking again.

Tricks and tips from Mindy's Cookie Love

1. When creaming butter with sugar, beat the butter first before adding the sugar. This cuts down on the total time it takes to create that suspension of butter, sugar, and air that starts off so many baking recipes.

2. Use a pastry roller! This tool is indispensable for smoothing out a layer of shortbread in a pan or for patch-treating dough when rolling it into a sheet. 

3. Use the back of a rimmed baking sheet (lined with parchment paper adhered to the sheet with nonstick spray) to spread melted chocolate into a thin layer. Pop the sheet in the freezer for 20 minutes and you can break it into chocolate shards and use these shards in place of chocolate chips. Or do what Mindy's doing in the photo above: spread peanut butter mixed with equal parts powdered sugar and then freeze it for an hour. It won't break into shards, but it will become this rubbery sort of texture that you can pull off in strips. It's great for ribboning into cookie dough.

4. Use hot fudge in cookies: it can be a filling in thumbprint cookies and rugelach or used between layers of shortbread, like we did with Mindy’s leopard print (above).

5. The easiest thing of all: Refrigerate dough before baking it. Most cookie dough benefit from hang time in the refrigerator so the gluten in the flour can relax and the sugar and salt dissolve a bit.