How do Peppermint Ravioli cookies, Orange Pistachio Delights, Cardamom Black Pepper Snaps, Harlequins, Dutch Apple Bars, Shortbread, Banana Split Bars, No-Bake Peanut Butter Bars, Rugelach Bars or Macadamia White Chocolate Lightening-Fast Brownies sound? Craving them yet? Local, professional pastry chef Helen Fletcher knows that's highly likely.
So, Helen wrote a new recipe book to guide home bakers, Craving Cookies: The Quintessential American Cookie Book. She even added a gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookie and eight other recipes that are naturally gluten-free.
"Cookies seem to be taken for granted, even though everyone loves them," Helen says, who serves as the pastry chef for Tony's restaurant in Clayton.
She says her love affair with cookies began by treasuring hand-written recipes left by her mother for European cookies, recipes written when baking took far more time than it does today with high-speed mixers and processors.
Helen places her beloved cookies into two categories: Gorgeous works of art reflecting the talent of an artist in intricacy and decoration but not meant to be consumed; and tasty delights meant to be eaten with gusto and shared – or not.
“Cookies can provide comfort, flavor, familiarity or a sense of the exotic, all in a bite or two. They can be sublime and subtle or ridiculous and over-the-top, elegant or simple. And they can have a place at the greatest of celebrations or simply to keep us company when we're home alone on a gray day,” she says.
For Valentine's Day, Helen recommends her heart-shaped shortbread cookie finished in pink and red sugar crystals. They are included in the cutout cookies portion of the book's technique section.
Simple recipes in her new book, she hopes, will spark lifetime interests for others in cookies. Not satisfied to just follow recipes, Helen says she always tries to find ways to make them easier, more consistent or varied. "I approached the book as though I was standing next to someone who's a novice to baking," she reveals, indicating she simplified and provided 200-plus pictures to give home bakers step-by-step methods to follow.
Helen's book shares tips she learned in many years of baking, both at home and professionally.
“I like bold flavors in my cookies,” she admits. “An unexpected hint of back pepper in a spice mix or a bit of cayenne with chocolate ups the flavor and intensifies the pleasure.”
In the book, she addresses questions, such as why/when to double pan cookies; what “spooning a crust” is when making bar cookies; and why to never make cut-out cookies without wax paper.
Her personal philosophy of teaching is to provide readers with the knowledge and skills to interpret recipes, as well as to make sure they have useable recipes with which to start.
Food has been Helen's whole world for 35 years, with a heavy emphasis on baking and pastry. In addition to more than 20 years working with Tony’s, she's written for national food magazines, including Bon Appetit, Chocolatier, AARP and Pleasures of Cooking, as well as for newspapers. She composes her own blog at PastriesLikeAPro.com. She also taught in the Baking and Pastry Program at St. Louis Community College, hosted food segments on St. Louis television shows, and owned and operated Truffes, Inc., an upscale artisan bakery servicing restaurants, hotels and caterers.
She also authored The New Pastry Cook, published by William Morrow & Co., which included sweet and savory pastries featuring new ways to make them in a food processor as well as by traditional methods. She has contributed to The Cake Bible and the Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum; Cookwise by Shirley O. Corriher; and Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread, by Amy Scherer.
Helen has received the Modern Baking Magazine Leadership Award, too.
Craving Cookies, The Quintessential American Cookie Book is 188 pages of deliciousness, and is available in book stores as a paperback and as an eBook available on Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google and several other sites where books are sold. It contains recipes for more than 80 cookies, and includes sections on equipment, technique and ingredients, featuring every ingredient used in the book. The paperback is priced at $29.95 and the eBook at $14.95.