One look at Jesse Szewczyk’s "Cookies: The New Classics" and it’s immediately clear that this is not just another cookie book. It is, in this dessert-loving cookbook fanatic’s humble opinion, the most gorgeous book of the season. Every cookie sparkles.
It’s comforting to know that Szewczyk is a food stylist and that he was adamant about working with one particular photographer on the book: Chelsea Kyle, whose food photos are hyper-stylized and hyper-appealing. In other words, this showstopper isn’t the work of mere mortals, but professional artists working their magic.
It is also comforting that despite the next-level art that would make "Cookies" a killer coffee table book, the recipes are truly approachable. They are definitely next-level, but aside from a few recipes in the “smoky” chapter, most of the cookies will feel totally doable to any level of baker. That’s by design.
“Cookies express so much personality and flavor in one familiar, accessible package,” Szewczyk explains, “so I felt like they were this delivery unit to bridge the gap and bring ‘chef-y,’ more cerebral flavors and ideas into everyone's kitchen.”
New Flavors for Old Favorites
Snickerdoodles may be a household name, but Szewczyk enriches his with sweet potato. His molasses cookies, meanwhile, come spiked with five-spice powder, and his amaretti take on an earthy quality thanks to matcha.
“Flavors have changed, but maybe cookies haven't kept up with them,” Szewczyk says. Good thing he is making up for lost time.
To say that "Cookies" is a collection of unique twists on classic recipes, however, would be to sell it short. The book is more like a collection of ah-ha moments that leave you asking, “Why isn’t this the standard? Why haven’t my oatmeal raisin cookies always contained chocolate-covered raisins?”
“It’s so obvious,” Szewczyk concedes, and yet: when’s the last time you put chocolate-covered raisins in your oatmeal cookies? Or preserved lemon in your lemon crinkle cookies, or cilantro in your lime-sugar cookies? These upgrades aren’t just catching up to the bold, savory, herbal, and spicy flavors that have come to dominate our food choices. They’re pushing these neat, contained little packages, as Szewczyk calls cookies, to the limit.
Stand-Out Tips from a Few Favorite Recipes
Take the Salt and Vinegar Potato Chip Cookies. You may be familiar with Christina Tosi’s now-famous Milk Bar Compost Cookies, which feature salty potato chips, but Szewczyk pushes that brilliant move one step further with everyone’s favorite salty-tangy snack.
Or consider how he doesn’t stick to the ol’ one, or maybe two, teaspoons of vanilla typically called for in recipes. He uses a full tablespoon of vanilla in ninety percent of the cookies. “Just go for it,” he says.
The Salt and Vinegar Potato Chip Cookies also showcase the wizardry at play in the book. It turns out that the powder on salt and vinegar chips reacts with leaveners used in cookies, so Szewczyk couldn’t just fold the chips into any old recipe. He needed to treat the powder like a leavener itself and find the right balance of ingredients to ensure the cookies would rise properly.
For more wizardry, see the “smoky” chapter, where cookies get smoky flavor from a number of techniques. In the Smoked Butter & Chocolate Chunk Cookie, Szewczyk smokes butter by placing applewood smoking chips in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over the stove, situating a bowl of butter on top and putting a lid over it. In the Smoky Muscovado Sugar Cookies, he uses liquid smoke. In the Burnt S’mores Skillet Cookie, he burns marshmallows by placing them under the broiler, and in the Fudgy Smoked Paprika Cookies, it’s all about the smoked paprika.
“Growing up I had Elizabeth Falkner’s cookbook and she was a good example of pushing things but never making them feel unattainable or fussy. She was always rooted in play and whimsy, and I feel like that was really important to me,” Szewczyk says.
Bake up a batch of the Red Wine Brownie Cookies—where Szewczyk uses reduced red wine to make up for moisture loss after browning butter—and that influence makes perfect sense. The clever, fun, subtly tangy, and rich cookie is, in a word, perfect.
The subject matter of "Cookies" makes it a no-brainer gift for the holiday season, whether it ends up on the coffee table or dog-eared and grease-stained in the kitchen. Want to have your cookies and eat them too? Maybe the answer is to do as Szewczyk would do: “Just go for it” and buy two copies.