Monday, February 2, 2009

Birds, Bees, Books, Cookies!

All my life, I've been in love with books. When I was in elementary school, maybe second or third grade, I was the absurdly proud owner of a small, hand-me-down, pages-coming-loose copy of an illustrated field guide to birds (or possibly, it was bugs ~ I can't recall). I so loved this little book that I carried it around with me everywhere, thumbing through the pages, admiring the glossy inserts, pulling it out to amuse myself whenever I was stuck waiting in line somewhere with my mom or trying to avoid provoking my sister during car trips.

Was I a bird (or bug) fan? No, not by a long shot. It was the size of that adorable book that hooked me. It was tiny enough to fit in a grown-up's back pocket, or, more to the point, my red nylon pocketbook. How handy it was, to have right there, when I was stuck at the bank, at the grocery store, or on my unfairly small slice of the backseat.

{Wow, reading over this, I'm picturing for the first time my 8-year-old self publicly engrossed in a field guide to fauna. Nerdling! At least I won the spelling bee that year.}

Eventually, my beloved field guide fell apart completely, in spite of my efforts to keep it together with swaths of Scotch tape and ginger handling. It had to take up permanent residence on my bookshelf. Who knows what I started carrying around at that point? Probably a pocket calculator. But more likely, my bird-and-bee interests found a different place to settle. The winged versions couldn't compete with the dreamy pull-outs of Sean Cassidy and Rick Springfield in the pages of Tiger Beat magazine.

At any rate, it's not surprising that I was in love with Anita Chu's delectable Field Guide to Cookies: How to Identify and Bake Virtually Every Cookie Imaginable from the moment I opened the package and saw it. The Field Guide is tiny, barely 6 inches tall and less than 4 inches wide. But it's dense ~ it packs recipes for more than 100 cookie varieties into its 328 pages, and each cookie is illustrated with a full-color photo.

Like my bird/bug guide of yore, this field guide is also packed with details, providing a general description as well as baking notes, storage and serving suggestions, and historical background for the recipes. The recipes themselves are quite diverse. There are ethnic favorites (alfajores, baklava), homespun classics (sugar cookies, gingerbread), and cookies that are rolled, molded, and dropped. If I own one book on cookie baking I own twenty, and the Field Guide to Cookies still managed to surprise me with several cookie recipes I'd never seen before. Now that's something to get excited about! I've made note of several recipes to try, and each time I thumb through the guide (say, in the hardware store, the bank . . .) I find a new one that intrigues me.

The third grader in me is practically jumping with joy ~ this new field guide has all the qualities I loved in my dear childhood version, but now with cookies instead of bugs! Does it get any better than that?*

TV Snacks (Croq-Tele)

In the book, these are described as "salty," "buttery," "irregularly shaped" snacky cookies. And they are all those things. They are also powerfully addictive little nuggets of nutty goodness that defy restraint. You've been warned.

~Adapted from pages 240-242 of the Field Guide to Cookies.

  • 3/4 cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted (I used whole almonds, unblanched)

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (varies according to preference)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 7 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cubed (I used salted)

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

  2. Grind almonds, sugar, and salt to a fine meal in a food processor.

  3. Beat flour and cold butter together for a few minutes until sandy in texture. Add almond mixture and beat until small clumps form. (Recipe calls for mixing in a stand mixer. I didn't want to wash another bowl, so I emptied the almond meal out of the food processor, pulsed the flour and butter together until sandy, then added the almond mixture back in. I pulsed again until clumps formed.)

  4. Use a teaspoon or small cookie scoop to scoop out small balls of dough. Pinch them in your palm so they clump together and place on cookie sheets about an inch apart. Bake about 15 minutes or until light golden brown. (The dough mixture is quite crumbly, so pinch them firmly so they stick together. Once baked and cooled, the cookies hold together well.)

  5. Cool cookies on pan for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

  6. Makes about 2 to 3 dozen cookies; store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week or freeze for longer storage.

*Yes, it does, actually. When I turned to the back of the book, I saw with great joy that the Field Guide to Cookies is actually one book in a series of similar field guides. That's right! A whole series of tiny-trim-sized books on subjects like meat, produce, herbs and spices, and other subjects far more interesting to me than either birds or bugs! And although I do love cookies, a girl cannot live by cookies alone. If you want to check out the rest of the series, or learn more about the Field Guide to Cookies, visit


Anonymous said...

Hey! We have that insect book. Seriously! And it's truly an old book. Yes, we're definitely a house full of nerdlings here and proud of it. I still don't have Anita's book, but love her blog. She does amazing things with sugar, doesn't she. And I just may need that book since the one I've been using isn't all that great. Yum on the cookies, too.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I had a nice long comment, and your security ran me through the gauntlet, then erased my comment. ARG. Andrea's, too. Anyhoo, from one nerdling to another, I have that insect book STILL. Hahahaha! On the cookie book, I don't have Anita's book yet, but love her blog. She definitely does amazing things with sugar, doesn't she? Nice cookies you've got there. The ones I made for my son's lunch this week taste great but are so ugly it's not funny. Good thing his stomach doesn't know the diff, right?

The Duo Dishes said...

Oh you can taste the butter now. Buttery, crumbly cookies!

Anonymous said...

Oh, these are similar to mexican wedding cookies that I make.
They get rolled in powdered sugar after they get baked.
Here is an example of the recipe

glamah16 said...

I saw this book and loved the style of it.Anything with almonds is for me.

Anonymous said...

I happened upon your blog though another blog about your Bread Baking adventure - but the reason I'm commenting is I had that bird book also - did a book report in 6th grade with it - I must admit I was fascinated by birds when I was young partly because of my parents interest - that really brought back some memories. I will also try the roll recipe - they looked great.

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