Cookbook review: The unique cookies in Dorie Greenspan's 'Dorie's Cookies' make for an instant classic

By Dorie Greenspan Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 528 pages, $35 Dorie's Cookies
By Dorie Greenspan Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 528 pages, $35Dorie's Cookies

One of the most fun things about sitting down with a new cookbook is bookmarking all the recipes to make first. With Dorie's Cookies, it didn't take long before too many of the pages were festooned with little flags: Pecan-Butterscotch Shortbread, Chocolate-Tahini Cookies, Coconut-Lime Sablés.

If good cookies are the goal, Dorie Greenspan is an ideal guide.

Greenspan sees the world through a cookie lens. Her signature rimmed glasses with tiny round circles even remind me of cookies. This is a woman who literally dreams up new cookie flavors (see the Classic Jammers on page 350, dreamt up in the middle of the night in Paris). Cocktails inspire new cookies and so do trips to new cities. Flavor combinations on a cheese platter end up in a cookie, too.

Greenspan says that over the span of a dozen cookbooks, many articles (including a regular column for the Washington Post) and several awards (including from the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals), she has developed at least 300 recipes for cookies. In her first cookbook, we get just more than half of those, including all the cookies, savory and sweet, developed for a cookie boutique she and her husband ran in New York City.

The collection of cookies that made the cut for this book begins with brownies, which I hadn't really considered cookies but are likely the first cookies I made. They are at home in the bar cookie category. These brownies defy the default cakey and fudgy categories; they are creamy and chewy in the middle and crackly at the edges. Sweet Potato Pie Bars topped with gooey marshmallows are set to become a Thanksgiving staple. They have an easy press-in shortbread crust and equal amounts of the buttery cookie layer and creamy pie filling.

The classics are here, reliable and familiar: chocolate chip, shortbread, blondies. But then there are more adventurous cookies like Popcorn Streusel Tops and meringues made with togarashi, a Japanese spice blend. Many of the recipes are the result of Greenspan being a self-professed lifelong tinkerer. A slight detour from a recipe with a different technique or ingredient results in a new cookie. Smaller variation options show up in what Greenspan calls the "playing around" notes at the end of recipes.

Greenspan, who splits her time between New York City, Paris and Connecticut and worked with culinary greats Julia Child and Pierre Hermé, remains totally accessible in her recipe writing. It is sometimes tempting to skip the first section of a cookbook and dive into the recipes, but her introductory chapter on techniques, ingredients and equipment is a must read. Here is the kind of knowledge that is helpful and revelatory to a new baker as well as an experienced one.

She promises to let you know when it's necessary to take an extra step and let you off the hook when it's not. She confides that she doesn't care much for sifting either, but it's a necessary step when it comes to cocoa powder, which is clumpy by nature. She also notes what steps in a recipe can be done ahead or divided over several days, which is crucial information during Christmas cookie season. The veracity of common cookie-making directions are confirmed in her notes for perfect cookies.

In the recipes, she anticipates potential pitfalls and clearly and gently guides the home cook away from them. Her Triscuity Bites recipe calls for pulsing ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and she advises not to let it get to the point where a ball of dough forms. As the dough is rolled out, Greenspan reassures that the ⅛-inch thickness of the dough, not the overall shape, is what matters. With hundreds of cookie recipes to her name, Greenspan knows where things might go awry because she's been there.

My favorite chapter may be the unexpected Cocktail Cookies, which features a collection of savory cookies for happy hour at home. Think Honey-Blue Cheese Madeleines, a delightful take on the classic cakey cookie, and Old Bay Pretzel-and-Cheese Cookies. These are surprising flavor combinations that will set your batch apart at any cookie exchange.

She is a fan of cutesy recipe titles like Bee's Sneeze Nuggets, Little Rascals and Good, Better, Best Cookies — playful, like Greenspan herself. The book's food photography employs a pop-art vibe that works in shots of larger-than-life cookies in a rainbow of bright backdrops. It's a big, beautiful cookbook I'll turn to for everyday cookies and special occasions as well.

Greenspan is an absolute authority on cookies, and Dorie's Cookies is an instant classic.

Ileana Morales Valentine can be reached at [email protected]