I’ve never had a “real” hush puppy.
When you’ve been off gluten and cow-dairy pretty much for twenty years, there are things you miss. I don’t know the luxurious treat that is thick vanilla pastry cream oozing from a fluffy pastry casing that they call an eclair. I couldn’t tell you the proper viscosity of a real creme brûlée (though my versions make me happy). And I have no childhood memories of tasting a fresh-outta-the-fryer hush puppy.
Thankfully I’m an adult now, dammit, and I can make whatever I want!
Enter Chef Amanda Cohen and her Dirt Candy cookbook.
I’ve made these classic crinkly peanut butter cookies every holiday season for as long as I can remember. As a child, I’d help unwrap Hershey Kisses and plop them onto still-warm cookies that were made by the hundreds in my family home. For years they were (by far) my favorite out of the many on my mother’s holiday plate and, as an adult, friends request these more than any other from my own kitchen.
In order to “save my spoons” (see here and here for what that means), I’ve cut back on baking a lot in the past year or so. But this Christmas I was gifted with such kindness that I popped into the kitchen to make them as a “thank you” to someone who particularly enjoys them. Someone who has shown me not a passing bit of kindness, but one that is sustained and repeatedly generous. One that, especially during this beautiful but stressful time of the year, I’ve greatly appreciated. One that was folded into another kindness, and two very special people to thank with something sweet.
I guess it’s fitting that my 300th post features the most New Yorky of cookies; the Black and White cookie.
Much of this blog has focused on my living in New York: balancing random jobs as a performer, writer and baker; dragging standing mixers to the apartments of boyfriends past; working for a local gluten-free magazine or meeting famous chefs; and eventually refocusing my work to bake less and write more. Yes, these cookies are not an adaptation of a chef that I know or am working with, but they are quintessentially New York.
And insanely delicious.
Growing up, there were several cookies my mom would always make around the holidays: crispy chocolate-chip laden biscotti, delicately caramelized lace cookies filled with melted chocolate, little cups of gooey nut pastries, and these tiny bombs of buttery walnut cookies I only knew as Butter Balls.
When the gluten thing hit in my early teens, those were all off limits for years. Later, as my mom started experimenting with gluten-free flours by my side, she easily adapted some of her favorites so that I could enjoy them along with my family. To this day, her biscotti come out better than mine, even though she uses my flour blend to make them. Some things just need that extra bit of mom love, I guess.
But the walnut butter balls eluded me. Until now.
It was August, and I hadn’t made a single pie.
I hadn’t made a single batch of ice cream or sorbet, either; but the cardinal sin was with the pie.
Pie is my favorite dessert. I make one for my birthday, or when I want to impress a man, or when a man I’ve impressed breaks my heart. And this summer I hadn’t made one.
But then I saw huge stalks of rhubarb in my hometown grocers. Rhubarb that was far too girthy for its own good, and so late in the season that I couldn’t nearly call it “peak”. But rhubarb none the same. I also had some really beautiful black plums from a farmers market in NYC. And I had Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts on my brain.
It came out October 1st, but I had it mistakenly launching on my schedule on the 20th, so this little post is a touch late. Brooks had kindly sent it to me after we’d barely missed each other at a mutual friend’s restaurant anniversary party; a black-and-white copy with notes someone had scribbled on random pages.
Now, I’ve never worked with Brooks. I met him when he was celebrated as a 2013 Dessert Professionals Top Ten Pastry chef, where we’d been introduced by Niko of Dessertbuzz (that link is for the 2014 celebration, because I love the photo Niko took of me with my favorite sweet pea of a pastry chef, Ron Ben-Israel). I had planned to work with Brooks in my interview column, but first he was busy writing the book and then my column ended. I still have yet to work with him, as I’m saving up my “wanna work on…?” request for something meaty. But the book had landed magically in my mailbox after the post Brooks-is-walking-away-from-this-party email exchange.
And it’s f***ing awesome.