King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion: The Essential Cookie Cookbook Hardcover – Nov 2 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
The holidays may be the only time of year when store-bought cookies just arent special enough to share with friends and family. Even novice bakers are willing to move beyond their comfort zone and try something festive. Now, they dont have to go it alone. The King Arthur Flour Company, the largest educator of bakers in the world, has provided a thorough how-to on cookies that will appeal to beginners and advanced bakers alike. The companys bakers have already won The James Beard Foundation KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year award for the King Arthur Flour Bakers Companion (2003), and now they set their sights on the cookie. The bakers have singled out eight essential cookieschocolate chip, oatmeal, sugar, peanut butter, shortbread, molasses-ginger, brownies and biscottiand offer both traditional and exotic recipes, as well as variations and decorating tips to allow for bursts of inspiration. Of course all baking starts with the basics, so the bakers begin by providing information on measuring, baking pans, cookie cutters, ingredients, tools and flour, and they end with a chapter on The Finishing Touch, where they dissect icing. With mouth-watering photos as motivation and drawings to offer assistance, this cookbook is a must for any serious baker. It leaves no cookie unturned.
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The King Arthur Flour Company, the largest educator of bakers in the world, has provided a thorough how-to on cookies that will appeal to beginners and advanced bakers alike. — Publishers Weekly
[...] The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion offers 400-plus recipes for almost every cookie under the sun--from traditional favorites like oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies (13 recipes including the soft and crisp kinds, plus 11 variations, such a Orange-Pistachio Milk Chocolate Chippers); to global treats like shortbread, tuiles, springerle, and biscotti; to all kinds of bars and soft bites such as brownies, Whoopie Pies, and Hot and Sweet Ginger Squares.
The Cookie Companion is in the King Arthur tradition, which means that tips, pointers, lore, and other compelling information. — Amazon.com
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If you live at altitude, page 22 alone is worth the price of the book. Photocopy it and tape it at your baking prep area.
The chapter division in the Companion is very baker friendly. How many times do you say, "I think I want to bake a drop/bar/cutout cookie" and how many times do you just think, "I would like an oatmeal cookie." Go to the chapter for the flavor or main ingredient of what you are in the mood to bake (or have the ingredients for). You will be sure to find a cookie that interests you.
I really liked the wide range of choices offered by the multiple recipes for the old standards. Do you want an oatmeal cookie that is soft, chewey, crisp, etc. You can select a recipe that meets your needs and wants for the moment.
The recipe headers are fun to read. The descriptions are sometimes amusing and it seems that the author is being very friendly and honest...almost like a friend handing you a recipe with his or her opinion of the results to be achieved.
I enjoyed the wonderful illustrations. It is obvious that the artist is quite familiar with baking techniques. The art really enhanced my appreciation of the recipes and the book.
Step by step and easy to follow--trademarks of baking with King Arthur recipes. These could be used by a beginning baker as well as by more experienced cooks. The sidebars contain interesting tips on ingrediets or techniques.
The only negative I have is the touting of some of the more exotic kitchen equipment (which can be purchased from King Arthur's Baker's Catalogue) in the comprehensive equipment listing. But I also read every issue of the catalogue when it arrives, so it is a very minor point.
This is another winner!
It is important to say that the value of the book is not based on its exhaustive coverage of cookie recipes, although in over 500 pages, the book certainly covers all but a few corners of the far flung land of cookie baking. While it does leave out some important recipes, such as the famous thin Moravian ginger cookies of North Carolina, its real value is in its meticulous description of all those factors that influence great cookie baking.
While a lot of cookie baking is a lot more forgiving than, say, pastry or biscuits or cheesecake, it is still baking, which means that a change in ingredients which would mean nothing to a sautee or a braise will mean the difference between a great cookie and a disappointment. The clearest example of this sensitivity is in the selection of shortening, where the major choices are butter, lard, margarine, or vegetable shortenings such as Crisco. Each option has a significant effect on taste and the degree that a drop cookie will rise or spread. And, that's before you even take nutritional aspects into account with tradeoffs between the saturated fats of butter and the transfats of margarine. Add in the effects of different sugars and different flours and you start to wonder how a cookie ever manages to get made. Oddly enough, the most complicated ingredient, the egg, seems to be the least finicky. All you do is be sure you use large eggs and bring them to room temperature before mixing them into other ingredients.
The fact is, as long as you are good at following directions, you have in this book a terrific collection of recipes for an incredibly modest list price of less than $30 which I am virtually certain will work for you every time. I repeat, this assumes you follow directions and don't do any substituting unless you really know what you are doing.
A perfect example of how this book can improve your cookie baking is the case of my favorite Snickerdoodle recipe from Nancy Baggett's `The All American Cookie Book'. I have been quite pleased with my results from this recipe ever since it became my standard, except that I would like them to spread out a bit less. Nancy's recipe calls for all butter and I happen to be using White Lily flour, which is relatively low in protein (a great pie crust flour, to be sure). It turns out that butter, low protein flour, and high sugar content all contribute to spreading, not to mention dropping the cookie dough onto a warm sheet. And here I thought it was all due to the corn syrup in Nancy's recipe.
My most interesting items in this book are where the authors disagree with statements in super baker Rose Levy Beranbaum's Christmas Cookie book. One is where King Arthur warns against using oil sprays containing lecithin (an emulsifier found in eggs) while Ms. Beranbaum recommends them. Also, King Arthur warns that while you can rework leftovers from cookie cutout margins, the cutouts from reworked dough will be a bit tougher than the originals. Miss Rose suggests there is no problem with reworking cookie dough. Last, Beranbaum warns against using sheets with high edges (such as jellyroll pans) to bake cookies, as this will inhibit cookie browning. King Arthur gives no such warning and recommends jellyroll pans along with no sided or low sided cookie sheets. On these issues, I give King Author two out of three, as I believe I have seen Rose's adverse effect of high-sided pans on cookie baking.
After the exquisitely presented discussion of what makes cookies work, the best feature of this book is its organization of recipes by type, with all of the most important styles grouped into a chapter of `The Essentials'. These are your chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, oatmeal cookies, molasses cookies, peanut butter cookies, shortbread, Biscotti, brownies, and decorated cookies. While I suspect the book dedicated to chocolate chip cookies may do a better job of it, I have seen no better treatment of chocolate chip cookies than what you get here. Also, in the chapter on decorated cookies you get all the basics you need to make gingerbread houses. Ms. Beranbaum's Christmas Cookies book gives a much more elaborate presentation of the subject, but this is more than enough to get you started. The remaining cookie types, each with their own chapter are bars and squares (hermits); drop cookies (thumbprint cookies); roll-out cookies (classic spice cookies and cutouts); shaped cookies (molded cookies such as springerles); batter cookies (such as Madeleines); and no-bake cookies (rum balls).
The low price and the terrific coverage of all basic cookie types make this by far one of the best general-purpose cookie books. There are others which are very, very good and there are special subject books such as Beranbaum's Christmas cookie book which offer things not in this volume, but you simply cannot go wrong if you get this book and follow its advice carefully.
I thing this is a better cookie book than King Arthur's earlier `All Purpose Baking Book'. Very highly recommended.
I would have rated this book a 5 except for 1 glaring omission. There isn't one mention in the book about softening the butter or having ingredients such as eggs at room temperature. When I first noticed this, I thought I must be imagining it. They are standard instructions in any other baking cookbook. But I have searched the book from front to back and still don't see any mention of this. This is no big deal for an experienced baker but could cause problems (and discouragement) to new bakers.
I also agree with the other reviewer that it was annoying that some of the recipes included ingredients that were not readily available to most home bakers. Sure, you could order these ingredients from King Arthur Flour. But it takes away the spontaneity of making cookies to have to pre-order an ingredient.
So, I didn't need this book, but I was looking for a cookie book to give as a gift for my daughter -- who is a scientist and bakes on the fly -- that would present the standard variety (and hopefully more) in an accurate and easy to follow manner. None of the books I had on my own shelves fit all my criteria, so I did a little exploring on Amazon and found this one. I liked what I read enough to buy a copy for myself, first and have now given it as a gift to many people. I am very happy with it.
Once you know the ratios for each baking product [after all, the same four basic ingredients make up 95% of all baking: flour (base), water/liquid ('reagent'), eggs (leavening), butter/oil (fat)] what matters are the details and particulates added along with the proportions. In culinary school students memorize these ratios so they know the difference between a pancake and a crepe, a biscuit and a muffin. The trained eye can also recognize incorrect 'recipes' and wrong proportions that mean many bookstore baking books are useless and lead to failed projects (this is not a problem in Europe where formulas are considered sacred and product names reflect a standardized version of any baked product - almost as controlled as wines and cheeses! It is more of a dilemma here in the US where anyone can publish a book and call him or herself an expert - thus the dizzying and confusing array of baking books on the market here and their cumbersome size. Recipe books in Europe are concise - a small picture, a bullet list of ingredients, a short paragraph of instruction, since most people know what goes into making a classic croissant, for example and don't need or want every author to repeat it). For that reason, when I peruse baking books, I skip the measurements and instructions and instead merely look for interesting flavors, particulates, embellishments, i.e., the creative and imaginative input of other minds. For the accurate formula for any product, I turn to professional resources.
Now, having said all of that - back to the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. This is a great start for home bakers who want accuracy and a thorough range of standard US cookies without being burdened with too much technical information or formulas (recipes) that take too long to prepare. Most people do not have any time to waste. For a professional version of this kind of baking, turn to Wayne Gisslen's two introductory culinary textbooks (baking and cooking) - they are well worth the investment. Short of Gisslen, this book fits the needs of any home baker.
I am particularly impressed by the amount of professional instruction and explanation that they have managed to include without its interfering with getting the project done. There are simply shaded sidebars throughout that give the kind of tips that elevate the amateur product to the professional and commercial level. For example, using Fiori di Sicilia - standard in commercial kitchens, the principle of docking, without which many products will simply fail (pizza principal among them!) and dough relaxers, among others of this genre.
As for the issue that someone raised about the book failing to discuss proper ingredient temperatures, I believe this was done within the descriptions and explanations of the individual products - perhaps not emphasized as much as would be ideal, but again, too much technical information can be offputting to people who are not meticulous. The important thing is to have formulas that work even when today's hurried home bakers are a bit careless. This book provides those kinds of recipes. But, for example, the concept of eggs brought to room temperature is dealt with on page 485. Softened butter is discussed on page 484. Some cookies doughs need to be chilled and that is addressed throughout the book. Cold butter and cold eggs can be a problem when incorporating hot liquids or other hot ingredients but for the most part these are not serious issues when making cookies (in contrast, cold ingredients are key to a successful pie dough, for example).
Do not expect spectacular imagination and decoration from this basic, accurate, how-to instruction reference. You can find all of that in thousands of ordinary cookie books, online, most of them through Amazon. I still buy them from time to time, myself, to stimulate my own creativity.
There are a handful of professional baking books that the serious baker should have (Amendola, Gisslen, etc.). I keep them in one spot on my cookbook shelves. The rest of my baking books are just for their imaginative details - they are inspirational but little more. The reason baking seems daunting is that it is grounded in math, chemistry and biology. The challenge of all that is they are a bit difficult to master at first, but the reward is, once understood and properly employed, a correct knowledge of baking science will mean perfect outcomes, every single time and the ability to make one or a thousand items with rather simple equipment and tools, anywhere you land.
If I had to throw away all my famous-name, home baking cookie books and keep just one, it would be King Arthur's.
THE KING ARTHUR FLOUR COOKIE COMPANION outlines nine "essential" cookies and oatmeal cookies are one of them. For each of these "essential" cookie types, the authors include from two to four basic recipes depending on what style of cookie you want to bake. Thus, for the oatmeal cookie, for example, there are recipes for a chewy cookie, a crunchy cookie, a crisp cookie, and (tada!) a SOFT COOKIE! My prayers have been answered.
But wait, there's more! There are literally dozens of variations on each "essential" cookie. Just choose the basic recipe that matches your preferences and then follow the additional instructions for creating the variation. Thus, each variation can be made in two to four different ways. In addition to oatmeal cookies, the other "essentials" are chocolate chip, sugar, molasses, peanut butter, shortbread, biscotti, brownies, and decorated cookies.
The "essential" cookies and all of their variations comprise less than a third of this book, so there are plenty of other cookies of all sorts included here; virtually any cookie which regularly occupies your dreams and aspirations can be found in THE KING ARTHUR FLOUR COOKIE COMPANION as well as many other you dared not dream existed. Gingerbread Houses? You bet! Hamantaschen? There is even a recipe for making your own hamantaschen filling from scratch. Mailanderli? I don't even know what that is, but it's here!
As a beginning baker myself, the part of THE KING ARTHUR FLOUR COOKIE COMPANION that I find extremely helpful is the "Getting Started" section. This generous section lays out the whole theory and practice of cookie baking from recommended equipment to technique to what makes a cookie spread out or become crunchy or burn, etc. More than just a kitchen reference, this is a book that I can curl up with and just read for pleasure (though it does make me hungry).
For the beginning baker like myself to the experienced hack to the cynical master chef, I give THE KING ARTHUR FLOUR COOKIE COMPANION my highest rating: five brownie points.
Jeremy W. Forstadt