I may have to stop reviewing cookbooks from Taunton Press--every single one I have chosen to review thus far I have wanted to own. My personal copy ordered from Amazon is on it's way to me as I type this.
What is it about this one? At first glance, it seems a little gimmicky. About 10 or 12 years ago, there were several cookbooks published that either limited the number of ingredients or number of steps for a recipe. Sometimes they were successful and sometimes less so.
Johnson Dodge has an understanding of ingredients, of chemistry, of baking and cooking, and of today's cook that works like magic here. When you only have four ingredients, they all count, and they all must work together to make the finished product. She gives a great introductory section where she talks about ingredients, techniques, equipment and more. Almost every recipe has suggestions to change it up, or comments on technical things or ways to gussy it up with sauces or glazes or the like. Usually when I review a cookbook, I make two or three dishes to see how they turn out. These recipes were so easy and so good, I found myself making one every time I turned around.
I started with Jammin' Sugar Cookie Thumbprints (p. 22) and Toasted Pistachio Crisps (p. 19). I am lazy, so I almost never get out my mixer. On the thumbprints, I filled them with raspberry preserves. They were rich, buttery, crispy and the raspberry was a perfect contrast. There were several suggestions for switch-ins and anyone with a little imagination could come up with more. I was not able to slice the dough for the crisps, it kept crumbling. (Possibly my fault for either mixing by hand or not chopping my nuts finely enough). It didn't matter, I rolled the dough into balls and pressed each flat with the palm of my hand. My husband loved them, suggesting I add them to my regular baking. From there I tried Crunchy Peanut Butter Buttons (p. 32). You will be amazed that such simple ingredients make such a divine cookie. Next time I think I'll try the suggestion and add mini M&Ms. These cookies were surprisingly even more peanuttier the second day. The Oatmeal-Cinnamon Crisps (p. 28) made a believer out of me. I looked at the "dough" and then my homely piles of oats on the cookie sheets and thought there is no way this is going to work. And then it did, almost like magic, when the brown sugar caramelized to make little crunchy mounds of goodness.
There were two recipes that were less successful however. The Lemon Meltaways (p. 29) had nice texture but didn't taste very lemony. This again may have been my fault, as I didn't measure my lemon zest, just zested the one lemon I had and figured it was enough. The Chocolate-Toffee Crumble Cups (p. 37) were delicious when first baked, but after they had cooled, the toffee in the dough seemed to get very hard and chewy and made them not as good. In this case, I think I would make them again and only put the toffee on the top, or try one of the suggestions for other things to switch-in their place.
Almost every recipe I tried had a higher yield than indicated. (If you are into cooking or just like to be exact, I recommend buying cookie scoops of varying sizes, they work so well.) I wanted to try other recipes in the book, so I can't wait for my copy to get here. And Abigail Johnson Dodge, if you see this, I would love a Cookies 4 Today book next. (You can tell I can't get enough of these cookie recipes!)