Side Dish: Sensational cookies

Nancy Baggett knows how to entice reviewers to look at her new cookbook, “Simply Sensational Cookies: Bright Fresh Flavors, Natural Colors & Easy, Streamlined Techniques.”

Baggett, a member of the Association of Food Journalists, showed up at the group’s recent annual conference with bags of cookies for everyone. After tasting her delicious treats, I was hooked and looking forward to getting a copy of “Simply Sensational Cookies.”

Simply sensational also can be used to describe the book itself. The prolific author — she’s written 14 cookbooks — provides a terrific collection of more than 200 recipes for what she calls “what’s current and up and coming in cookies.”

She writes that the cookies she remembers from her childhood were different than those served today. Then, people made molasses-spice, raisin, oatmeal, gingerbread, sugar cookies, date bars and basic chocolate chip cookies with only a few chocolate morsels. Unlike today, there were no interesting variations on Toll House cookies and brownies; no dump-everything-in monster cookies; or what she calls “high-impact cookies,” those with a sophisticated flavor and texture.

While today’s cookie makers are “looking for cookies that deliver more, most home bakers are looking for recipes that require less from them,” she writes. “Everybody’s super busy. Plus, many ardent cookie makers aren’t experienced at baking.” And, she adds, many people want less-processed foods that limit dyes and other chemicals.

So, Baggett decided to try to answer all those needs with “Simply Sensational Cookies.” She’s succeeded. The book’s contemporary recipes have thorough, concise and easy-to-follow instructions. They feature new, all-natural flavors and decorating techniques, and she’s done a lot of testing to get cookies with just the right texture.

The book offers plenty of tips on ingredients, equipment and cookie-making techniques. Its recipes begin with a chapter of easy, from-scratch cookies for the busy or novice baker, such as Sweet & Simple Sugar Cookies, Super-Fast Fudgies and Iced Little Lemon Drops.

There also are chapters for drop cookies, hand-shaped cookies, rolled cookies, brownies, bar cookies, slice-and-bake cookies, biscotti, cookies-in-jar mixes, “semi-homemade” cookies and no-bake cookies.

There’s a section for crossover nibbles, those that fall between cookie and cracker, such as fruited Stilton-walnut cocktail cookies and Cajun pepper sticks. And Baggett offers recipes for fancy cookies, decorating projects, frostings and fillings.

The book is illustrated with numerous full-color photographs by Diane Cu and Todd Porter, but not every recipe is accompanied by a photo of the completed treat. However, many include variations and all include storage information. They also are marked with ratings from extra easy to fairly difficult and a short assessment of the recipe’s attributes. For example, the recipe for rosemary-lemon wafers is labeled as “Quick food processor mixing. Sophisticated yet easy.”

Anyone who loves to make and eat cookies will want to add “Simply Sensational Cookies” to one’s cookbook collection.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s Food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com.