Whether you will appreciate Rose Levy Beranbaum’s newest cookbook, The Cookie Bible, will depend on a few things. First, how much direction do you want? Beranbaum meticulously details each step, including how long dough should rest in the refrigerator, exactly how to prepare your pans, how to roll each cookie dough ball, and and what size and weight everything should be. She’ll tell you how often to turn your pan in the oven and what the cookies should look like when they are ready. I like a lot of direction — I’m not an instinctive baker and I measure everything to the gram, so Rose’s instructions are perfect for me.
Second, how simple do you want your recipes? Even for the most basic recipe, like chocolate chip cookies, Rose has you go through a lot more steps than your average Toll House recipe. If you want easy, bake from a box. Rose will have you brown your butter rather than melt it, for example, and she tells you which ingredients need to be taken out 30 minutes or an hour in advance so they can come to room temperature. Recipes with walnuts have you toast the walnuts first, then roll them in a towel to get the skins off, then bring to room temperature. You have to plan your day around these recipes. No impulse cooking here.
A third key factor is how sweet you like your cookies. I prefer baked goods that are not sticky sweet, so Beranbaum’s recipes work for me. Less so for Mr. CG — he’s been pretty unhappy with most of the cookies I tried from this cookbook. He blames this on the British approach to baking although Beranbaum is American.
Finally, these recipes are pretty light on spices like cinnamon and ginger, even the ginger snaps. These are fairly subtle, where we’re used to the triple-ginger gingersnaps from Trader Joe’s. So if you’re looking for recipes that are good for all palates, these are great, but my husband wanted more spice.
All the recipes I tried were from the “Rolled by Hand” category, because I’m not an advanced baker. But as its name suggests, you’ll find almost every type of cookie imaginable, including dropped, piped, sandwich, dipped, bars, and holiday cookies.
Here’s what I tried from this book:
- Chocolate chip cookies. I substituted pecans for walnuts because Mr. CG hates walnuts. Sigh. These came out pretty dense, not sweet but with plenty of chocolate and lots of chopped pecans. Mr. CG felt they needed a bit more salt. They baked really evenly and didn’t burn on the bottoms at all, and are good reheated. My oven tends to overcook so I had to add a minute or two.
- Lemon lumpies. I used Beranbaum’s suggestion to substitute candied ginger for the candied lemon, so these ended up being Ginger Lumpies instead, and both of us loved them. Very gingery and soft, and while the white chocolate seemed an odd combination with ginger it added a nice touch of sweetness.
- Pumpkin pecan cookies. I liked these a lot, but Mr. CG found them bland. Again, they are not the sweet pumpkin-y cookies you might expect from the name, the flavors are much lighter.
- Peanut butter chocolate chip shortbread. I’m not a huge shortbread fan so I chose these for my husband, who likes shortbread and peanut butter cookies. That turned out to be a mistake. These were dry, so dry they sucked the moisture right out of your mouth. They were good with coffee though, and they stayed good in the fridge for a couple of weeks, so I enjoyed them.
- Ginger snaps. I chose to cook these a little less, so instead of being hard and crispy these were soft and almost pillowy. Both of us really liked them but agreed we’d add extra ginger next time. There’s no molasses or ginger chunks in these cookies, so they almost taste more like sugar cookies with a bit of ginger. But they were a perfect cookie with a cup of coffee, and not overly sweet. (This book also has a recipe for a double-ginger molasses cookie, which is more our preference, but I wanted to try a basic ginger snap for this review.)
I found the ARC a bit clunky to work from (I used a mini tablet), because the pages jumped around unpredictably. I’m assuming that’s corrected in the final version. But full disclosure, I’m not someone who likes to use e-cookbooks, as much as I prefer to read from an e-reader. I’d much rather cook from a paper cookbook even if that means it gets all messed up. The other formatting downside was you won’t find pictures for every recipe. With baking, I need to see what the end product should look like, even though her descriptions are very good.
For someone looking for a comprehensive cookie cookbook that provides meticulous instructions about things like measuring, mixing time, and ingredients, I’d recommend this book. For someone who bakes intuitively or is looking for something quick and easy, I wouldn’t recommend this book. And if you’re looking for subtle flavors and drier cookies, like the kind that are good with coffee, this is a better pick than for someone who wants really sweet gooey cookies.
For me, I love the detailed instruction and the slightly-less-sweet flavors. But then I’m also willing to eat just about anything I make — I’m just not that picky. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of Beranbaum’s cookbooks and I’ve learned a lot from them. In fact, now I get frustrated when I use other recipes, which don’t tell you how large a pan to use, or distinguish between light or dark brown sugar, or tell you what something should look like when it’s done. With Rose, I know it’s come out the way it’s supposed to (it’s like she’s right there in your kitchen).
My go-to is Rose’s Baking Basics, because it has step-by-step pictures and covers a wide range of baked items. We’ve had more success with some of her cake recipes and I love her blueberry muffins. But if you’re looking for an all-cookie cookbook, this is a good one.
Note: I received an advance review copy from NetGalley and publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. This book publishes November 9, 2021.