I’d like to share with you the second step of the cookie-creation process, which I call “innovating cookies.” The idea of creating and then innovating is common to decades of successful kitchen endeavors and business processes. I find that pausing to innovate not only saves time and ingredients; it also often leads to a better-tasting cookie. Here are a few criteria I incorporate into the innovation process:
o I want to create a variety of simple and somewhat complex recipes, so I always try to see if I can create this cookie simply.
o I aim for three primary flavors, and hope for two. I rethink the cookie if I have a list of four or more flavors. Some foods that transition to cookies have multiple undertones that are interpreted as having one common primary flavor. If that’s the case, I go with it. If the flavors create a tumble of, “What is that?”. I regroup. For example, Antipasto has multiple flavors and yet is reminiscent of a common theme, an antipasto dish often consumed on a summer night at a local Italian restaurant or pizzeria. Whereas Delectable, based on a caramelized pear offered in a high-end bistro, needs more refined flavors.
o All of the ingredients in the cookie need to be available at a single major grocery store plus one specialty store. In other words, no markets have everything and we may need to make one quick stop on the way home. However, any cookie that requires ingredients that need to be hunted at three or more stores is beyond what I’m interested in. I don’t mind the stores, it’s the driving and parking that negates the fun of the baking!
o Each ingredient needs to retail for less $7.00. This rule somewhat painfully eliminates some cool items I long for when watching cooking shows on television. However, some possible ingredients (for example, vanilla beans and some liqueurs) are ridiculously expensive.
o I favor more obscure spices and I stay away from those that are typically found in 48-piece spice sets purchased at discount stores and given away as wedding gifts. Otherwise, it would make me wonder if the cookie’s taste is dependent on a gift spice unwrapped from a previous decade.
Once I settle in with the flavors and feel in sync with the above criteria, I focus on the type of base cookie that will best support and enhance the cookie’s flavors. Will I need a light, medium, or a hearty base to hold the cookie together? And what kind of base will best create a great cookie even with the subtle differences among ingredient brands? For example:
o Berry Basket needs a hearty cookie for its three layers of raspberry with ginger, coconut with lemon zest, and blueberry with cinnamon. The coconut and blueberries work well with a medium base; however, the raspberries need a heartier base because of their propensity to wetness.
o Antipasto includes olive oil and cheese; a medium cookie is OK as long as I bring in corn meal that works well with moisture.
o Delectable, the caramelized pear recipe, works well with a medium or heartier cookie. However, because of the wide variety of moisture levels of baked pears, a shortbread bar cookie works best for accepting juice without changing the intent of the cookie.
After considering the character of the base, I imagine the cookie’s texture. How will it look on the plate, and, more importantly, how it will feel on the tongue: crispy, crunchy, cakey, or crumbly? I think about the first impression of taste: Will it be sweet, savory, peppery, or salty? What about presentation; will it be rounded, thinly sliced, or a pinwheel? Will the cookie present better if I take time to deal with a rolling pin, or will a faster, more rustic presentation better support the cookie’s keywords or keyword phrases? Will other bakers try substitutions, such as frozen fruits, gluten-free flours, favorite cheeses, and alternative butters?
Once I think through innovating the recipe, including benchmarking back to the keywords or keyword phrases, I’m ready to move on to detailing and testing the recipe. Now, this may seem like a lot of work before the mixer comes out. However, I have found that thinking and imagining the cookie first and working out the recipe later guides the outcome and still leaves room for sparks of inspiration. And… there are a lot fewer dishes to wash ☺.