Pros: Lots of recipes for all kinds of cookies
Cons: Misleading and incorrect photos; lots of recipes with problems
Rating: 2 out of 5
First published 5/7/2000
I’m torn – it’s hard not to recommend a cookbook with so many cookie recipes, some of which are probably perfectly good. On the other hand, I’m frustrated with the results we’ve gotten from this cookbook.
First, though, I’m developing a theory about cookbook series:
- A cookbook author who knows what he’s good at and sticks to it is a wonderful thing. Hence, people like Paul Prudhomme who put out mostly Cajun cookbooks, or Nina Simonds who puts out Asian-themed cookbooks, or Marcel Desaulniers who puts out chocolate cookbooks. (Excellent cookbook authors, all three.)
- Cookbook series put out by publishers using different authors for each book can be good or bad, but tend more toward good. Williams-Sonoma puts out some fantastic cookbooks in their series. And most of the Le Cordon Blue Home Cooking series is quite fine (with the notable exception of the muffins cookbook).
- However, beware authors who put out “gimmick” themed cookbooks. For example, Rick Rodgers put out both “Thanksgiving 101” and “Christmas 101.” The first is fantastic; the second most definitely isn’t. Then there’s our author Gregg Gillespie, who has put out “1001 Cookies,” “1001 Muffins,” and “1001 Chocolate Recipes.” The muffin cookbook is pretty good, although not perfect. The chocolate cookbook – well, let’s just say that I left it at a recycling station. (I will say, however, that the back of the cookbook says there are actually 1011 recipes in it, but that neither the author nor the publisher could pick 10 to take out because they were all too good. I could have easily picked the 10, starting with the first two recipes we made from the cookbook.)
It seems like most gimmick themes have at least one good cookbook in them, but that the rest usually leave quite a bit to be desired. With that thought firmly in mind, let’s move on to today’s review.
I’m going to start here, because it’s one of the things that annoys me the most. On the surface of things, the way the pictures are done in this cookbook seems like a great thing. There’s a single, no-frills plain photo of each item next to each recipe, taken close up and simply. This sounds great, doesn’t it? In theory, this means you should know exactly what each recipe should look like when it’s done!
Unfortunately, this is one theory that certainly does not bear out in practice.
First, let me diverge slightly into a topic of interest to most cookie-lovers: crisp & crunchy vs. soft & chewy. Everyone has their favorite sort, or wants a specific sort when they’re in a specific mood. Either way, you definitely want to be able to tell whether you’re making a crunchy cookie or a soft cookie. In this, these pictures should serve perfectly, right?
Wrong. I was desperate for a crunchy chocolate chip cookie one night, so I picked a photo that was obviously of a crispy cookie and made the recipe. So certain was I of the photo that I didn’t stop to think of what I know of what makes cookies crispy vs. soft. Voila! Soft cookies. Very, very soft cookies. That looked nothing at all like the photos. We froze them, which sort of worked; they were kind of crunchy then but it wasn’t the same. (Tip: shortening and brown sugar lend themselves to a soft cookie; butter and white sugar will give you a crispier cookie. Now you know.)
Then there were the apple bar cookies. Sure, they tasted pretty good. But they wouldn’t hold together because all of the apple floated to the top of the mixture that was supposed to bake around it. Looked nothing at all like the pretty photo of apple bits submerged in sweet pastry.
The pictures are virtually useless. You can’t trust them. Sometimes it’s even distressingly obvious that the photo next to the recipe couldn’t possibly be a photo of that recipe! Not to mention the fact that since these photos are taken from straight on, you get no sense of depth or dimension – no clue whether they’re thin crispy cookies or pillowy huge cookies. Absolutely useless.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the recipe collection. They’re arranged alphabetically over 420 pages. There are, as the title suggests, 1001 of them. Wow!
But then you make the Pepparkoek, bar cookies with a heavy molasses & spice content – sounds wonderful to me! They’re pretty easy to make. But they come out so hard around the edges that you practically need a hammer and chisel to get started cutting them. Even our Cutco knives had trouble cutting through the edges. And for such wonderful molasses-spice content, the final product was surprisingly bland and tasteless. It was aided a little with the addition of some vanilla ice cream, but it was still mediocre at best.
Then those apple bars I mentioned earlier. The stuff that looked like pretty pastry in the photo clumped into sludgy sweetness in the middle. Tastes great; feels kind of nasty.
The soft chocolate chip cookies were okay; the recipe on the butter-flavored Crisco package is better. The butterscotch cookies were similarly reasonable but not great (and again, soft with a crispy-looking photo).
You’ll find everything here from the standard recipes (chocolate chip, oatmeal, molasses, etc.) to fun things for the kids (Measles Cookies), to interesting foreign recipes (Medeni Kurabii). Nothing we made got thrown out wholesale, but nothing particularly delighted us either. The apple bars came closest – even though the texture was off, the taste was wonderful.
There’s an index of “Cookies by Type.” So you can find a bar cookie, a drop cookie, a formed cookie, a refrigerator cookie, non-edible cookie, or rolled cookie at a moment’s notice.
There’s also an “Index of ingredients” – look up the ingredient you want, and find a recipe. Useful if you’re trying to use up a certain ingredient. Useless if you’re trying to find that one recipe you found before that uses semisweet chocolate – you’ll just have to look through the tens of unidentified page number listings one by one.
I’m similarly torn between giving this book two stars or three. On the one hand, there are bound to be some really good cookie recipes in here, just by the law of averages. On the other hand, it’s clear that these recipes were barely kitchen-tested, and the photos hastily taken and applied. The cookbook is organized terribly, and in so many ways it could have been much better.
It might make a good starting point if you just need a little inspiration. Take its ideas and twist other cookbooks’ recipes into what you want. Just don’t trust the pictures, and be forewarned that things might not come out the way they’re supposed to. With all that in mind, if you still want this cookbook, then go ahead. I’m sure the next recipe will come out okay. Or maybe the one after that. Or maybe…