Dorie Greenspan took over my life for three days

While reading the Washington Post earlier this month, I ran into this. It sounds like a busy amateur kitchen monster’s dream come true: one dough, many cookies. I showed it to my mom who accused me of favoring the idea strictly because it was in the Post.

She was probably right, so I looked into it. Starting with the link in the article to buy Dorie Greenspan’s cookie book, I did some research into just who Dorie was. Turns out, I’d blindly read a number of things by her in her regular Washington Post column, but I didn’t note her name for whatever reason (Read: Washington Post bias like my mom said). I bought the book ($20) and worked on enthusing my baking assistant.

It took some convincing, but eventually Mom was in. Her deal was simple: “You make all that dough, and I’ll help you decorate.” I scoffed at “decorate” because I was sure this was something beyond mere “decoration.”

Honestly, it really was. We (I) whipped up both the vanilla and the chocolate Do-Almost-Anything dough. Then we (really was “we” this time) made some of Dorie’s direct suggestions while creating variations of our own for the others. Finally, I insisted on a third dough for a one-off batch that sounded amazing.

Here, I’m not providing direct recipes from Dorie’s book because I want you to buy it, too (it’s worth it), but I am providing tips and tricks for making the recipes work. On the plus side, though, you can find the link to the vanilla dough in her Post article to get your imagination started.

The lineup. Pictured: honey (ended up not using this), vanilla bean (or this), walnuts, lemons, dried tart cherries, dark chocolate chips, lemon extract, vanilla extract, white chocolate chips, dried cranberries, almond slivers (also not used), poppy seeds, raspberry jam (I like seedless). Yes, I left the Nationals coffee mug in the foreground.

Note: There are several tips in her article linked here, so I’m focusing on things I discovered in addition to those tips. I’d highly recommend starting there before coming here. 

The dough

Dorie’s Vanilla Do-Almost-Anything dough with poppy seeds
Dorie’s Vanilla Do-Almost-Anything dough
Dorie’s Chocolate Do-Almost-Anything dough

 

 

 

 

 

Making the dough is super easy. This is the case for both the vanilla and the chocolate Do-Almost-Anything varieties as well as the shortbread. My confidence was soaring when I stuck it in the fridge to chill. This was a mistake.

I live in Florida. As I write this from Orange Beach, Alabama, about an hour directly east of Pensacola in the Panhandle, it is 70 and sunny with a high of 78. It’s about the same at home.

In December.

Climate change is real, guys.

Anyway, the minimum chill time is 3 hours, but we weren’t really able to work with it at the 3 hour mark. It was quite humid and warm, so as soon as we took it out of the fridge, it was a race against time to keep it from getting too soft to shape. Even at 5 hours, we still had to beat the heat and did not fully succeed (there were a couple oddly shaped cookies toward the ends of batches). We were able to curb some of the softness by putting mini-batches of dough back in the fridge while we decorated about a dozen or so and stuck them in the oven. Other than this climate-related minor obstacle, this dough is really very easy to make.

Below are the seven varieties we made, rated in 6 categories and ranked first through seventh based on those categories (although “worst,” in this case merely means “not quite as amazing as the others.”).

Don’t feel like I want you to read all this. It’s a lot. Scroll and stop when you see something interesting.

Variety 1: White chocolate and poppy seed

Dorie’s White Chocolate and Poppy Seed cookies just after icing (the day after baking them). Isn’t that one on bottom left GORGEOUS?! (I’m about 89.45% sure that was the very last cookie baked and very last cookie iced.)

We decided to start with one of Dorie’s exact recipes, the White Chocolate and Poppy Seed cookies made from a third of the vanilla dough. This recipe can be found in the book or at Better Homes and Gardens.

Thoughts:

  • These were gone before Christmas (I had three of the 42 we made. We gave away 12. I cannot account for the other 27).
  • They’re nearly impossible to screw up (the hardest part is keeping the poppy seeds from roaming out of line. Seriously. Hardest part by far.)
  • The flavors work perfectly together (I don’t like white chocolate, but these were amazing).
  • They’re unique but not so unique that they’d turn off a picky person or a poppy seed skeptic.

 

 

  • Would make again? I am making them again this week so we’ll have more for the New Year.
  • Any changes? None. Seriously. They’re perfect.
  • Tips ? We used a fondue pot to melt the chocolate for icing. I find it easier to work with than a Dutch oven and less temperamental than microwaving.

This one pretty much won the holiday season.

Another look at the 2016 winner.

Variety 2: Lemon Poppyseed Shortbread

A couple slices of amazing.

These were also an exact Dorie cookie. I didn’t initially plan on making them, but the more I looked at them, the more I wanted to give them a shot. You can find this one in the book or at Dorie’s blog, Everyday Dorie.

Note: These are eggless, if that’s something you look for in a recipe.

Thoughts:

  • I doubled this recipe so there would be enough of them. I ended up with 38 individual pieces because a number of the cookies broke. So technically, I ended up with 17 well-presented cookies. We kept the broken ones and gave away the nice ones.
  • Those cookies broke because I was distracted. When they come out of the oven, they need to be cut pretty quickly (Dorie says 3 minutes)! Use a very sharp knife.
  • As well, follow what Dorie’s directions tell you to do to remove them from the pan. Don’t rush this step.
Lots of crumbling in this if you don’t time it correctly.
Closer look at the crumbling
  • These were ALMOST as good as the White Chocolate and Poppy Seed. The lemon glaze was amazing. I had to stop myself from eating it along the way.
  • It’s amazing, but it’s deceiving. You can tell from the picture below that it starts out a little thin, but while it can be adjusted as you go, don’t let the thinner consistency fool you. It will harden nicely and stay that way.
  • Also, I used only lemon juice and confectioner’s sugar rather than milk, and that intensified the lemon flavor. If you love lemon, do this. If you do not, go with the milk. I love lemon and, frankly, thought they could have been even more lemony.
Note the runny nature of the glaze. It’s deceiving, however, as it dried nicely and remained in place. Besides, the glaze is amazing, so I just dipped a few broken cookies into the glaze that ran off and ate them.

 

  • Would make again? Another one I’m making again before the New Year. The shortbread dough is very easy to make, and it tastes great raw (I can’t help myself; besides, it’s eggless).
  • Any changes? Not really. I might try to make these in a different shape next time, cut them a bit smaller, and make sure I get them cut quickly.
  • Tips? I used cake pans with removable bottoms, and that made it much easier to get them out of the pan very quickly without breaking them. The breaking, as I said, came at the cutting. Here’s my advice to fix that: Get them out and lay them upside down on the surface where they’ll cool. Plan to cut them pretty quickly while they are still warm and can be manipulated. Follow Dorie’s directions. Don’t get distracted.

Variety 3: Cocoa Streusel

The cocoa streusel cookies giving some color to the plate.

This is where we started to get a little creative. I wanted to stay pretty much in line with Dorie’s vision, but I wanted to go outside the box a little These used a third of the chocolate Do-Almost-Anything dough with a cocoa streusel found in the book and a few walnuts. The streusel was designed to go on top of Zan’s Birthday Cookies from the book, but we repurposed it here.

Here’s what we did. We rolled and cut out a third of the chocolate dough, made the cocoa streusel, added chopped walnuts, put the cookies onto the cookie sheet, and pressed a spoonful of the cocoa/walnut streusel into them. These took about 8-10 minutes to bake.

Thoughts:

  • These were surprisingly good.
  • They’re also nearly impossible to screw up, but you have to make sure you push the streusel INTO the cookie dough so it doesn’t just crumble right off.
  • They bake very quickly. Don’t work on something else while these are in.
  • There was leftover streusel, and this is not a problem. It’s awesome on ice cream.
  • We ended up with 39 of these.
Close up of our third place finisher.

 

  • Would make again? Yeah, sure. They were easy and delicious. Why not?
  • Any changes? Nope.
  • Tips? Just as I said, make sure the streusel is pushed into the cookie dough.

Variety 4: Spiced Streusel topped

Using a “made up” streusel recipe left us with these golden babies. That odd brown stick looking thing is debris from the neighboring cookie.

That streusel topped cookie started to sound like a really good idea, and we still had two thirds of the vanilla dough to get through. This time, we made a very basic streusel without consulting the book.

Just like the chocolate version, we cut them out, topped them, and baked them.

Here’s the streusel recipe:

  1. 2 tablespoons butter or margarine (firm)
  2. 1/4 all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  3. 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  4. 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  5. 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Cut butter into flour, brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon in medium bowl, using pastry blender or crisscrossing 2 knives, until crumbly.

Thoughts:

  • These have many of the same characteristics as the chocolate version, even down to the “use excess streusel for ice cream topping” advice.
  • Once again, make sure the topping is pushed in.
  • I’d probably add a bit more of the spices to this next time or perhaps some nuts.
  • They were good, but they were a bit underwhelming in terms of boldness of taste. If you want subtle, they are certainly that, but I felt they paled in comparison to the bold and unique nature of some of the other varieties. This may have done them a disservice, as they’re probably rather good on their own.
  • They’re not very pretty. They’re certainly not hideous, but there’s nothing striking about them. I think I could have given them some excitement and depth with chopped pecans. That dark color would have been a great complement to the delicate tans of the cookie and topping.
  • This gave us 37 total.

 

  • Would make again? Yeah, they’re very quick and easy. I can see a use for them as an “Oh, shit! I need to bring something!” dish for a party.
  • Any changes? Just the addition of pecans or more spice, as previously mentioned.
  • Tips? These, like their chocolate counterparts, bake very quickly. Eyeballs on the oven!

Variety 5: Chocolate-raspberry thumbprint

Another of Dorie’s recipes with Chocolate Do-Almost-Anything dough.

For this one, we return to full Dorie Greenspan mode. You can find this recipe in The Mercury News.

Thoughts:

  • I don’t like the seeds of things. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, kiwi, and so on give me a bit of an existential crisis because I enjoy the taste but can’t get past the seeds. Therefore, I used Polaner’s seedless raspberry jam.

  • We used the fondue pot again for the chocolate topping. This was a messy endeavor, no matter how you plan to melt it. Just have a lot of room to fling chocolate and be willing to sacrifice a couple until you get the rhythm down.
  • These were rather good, if not a little light. One of the themes among all these cookies was that the dough is not rich so you can eat a couple without getting that bogged down dessert feeling. I worried these might be a bit rich, but after making them, they’re not. This is a good thing. You could make them richer with more chocolate topping or a sweeter jam, if you wanted, but there’s really no need.
  • Even though it says 20, we ended up with 39.

 

  • Would make again? Probably.
  • Any changes? We used dark chocolate chips, but you could do it with milk chocolate and still have a successful cookie.
    • Tips? Do the chocolate topping the next day. This way, the jam is fully set, and there won’t be any weird bleeding between the chocolate drizzle and jam. Use your actual finger for the thumbprints. You want a deep enough well that the jam doesn’t ooze out onto the pan. Just be careful not to push too far down or the bottom of the                                                                                       cookie burns and the rest                                                                               doesn’t bake evenly.
The edges will break some when you put the thumbprints into them. This is fine.

 

Variety 6: Cranberry Walnut Snowballs

You can tell these lost some confectioner’s sugar along the way, and that’s our fault for rolling them too late.

Every year, we make snowballs. Follow this recipe, but add chocolate chips if you want to go that route. They’re a favorite, but nothing normal was on the agenda for this year. Well, we must have been missing them because these became our last-minute snowball substitute.

My plan was simply to roll these and cut them or drop them, but they evolved along the way. The end result was a cranberry walnut snowball.
Using a third of the vanilla dough, mix in dried cranberries and chopped walnuts to your liking. Use your hands to get it evenly mixed, roll them out, and bake them for about 12 minutes.

Cool cookies for no more than two minutes. Then roll them generously in confectioner’s sugar. Let them cool and roll them again.

Thoughts:

  • These could easily have outranked the Cocoa Streusel if they’d been planned.
  • We thought of rolling them in powdered sugar AFTER they were baked only because when we took them out of the oven, we cocked our heads and thought, “No one is going to eat these. They look like tiny balls of flesh.” Just off-white dough balls. Mom and I stared at them for a moment before she declared, “Confectioner’s sugar!” and dumped some into a bowl. Unfortunately, they’d passed that temperature at which the sugar adheres beautifully, and it was humid and hot out, so they weren’t perfect. If you plan ahead to roll them, however, they should look nice.
  • As far as taste, they were pretty good, but they definitely needed more nuts and cranberries. They had that light and subtle texture of a snowball or Russian teacake, but there wasn’t enough of the fruit and nuts to give it much depth.
  • In the end, they gave us our snowballs, and they were rather good.
  • This gave us 33 total.

 

  • Would make again? Yeah, they’re quick and easy, and I want to make them again without the powdered sugar as an afterthought.
  • Any changes? More fruit, more nuts, more powdered sugar.
  • Tips? Double roll them in the powdered sugar like the snowball recipe suggests. Wait until they’re cooled for the second rolling.

Variety 7: Cherry-Nut Chocolate Pinwheels

Remember that some things taste better than they look.

Look. I’m not above a poop joke, even when I’m talking about food. These cookies were a three-day poop joke. My brother sent me this, along with a message that read, “You know, I’d be proud of it, too, but I don’t think you should save it in the freezer.”

Don’t get me wrong, though, these were incredibly tasty. Particularly delicious was the cherry-nut filling before it went into the cookie. Alone, you could do much with it (such as eat it with a spoon).

I do, however, highly recommend watching Dorie make these herself on Food 52’s Facebook before attempting them. I’ve never been good at rolling dough, but these looked so delicious I had to try. The recipe itself is in the book, but the video gives you a pretty solid overview.

Thoughts:

  • Put simply, everything just fell apart. The filling was delicious and didn’t have any liquid left in it, but the dough just thawed so fast in the heat, we were rolling it against time. It would get soft and tear, so we’d back up, put it away, and try again. Every time we tried, it was like we had 30 good seconds before it needed to go back in the freezer.
  • Then came the cutting. Same procedure. Cut a few and put it back. The ends were just turned into globs of dough and the slices were completely uneven throughout. One in 20 looked like the picture. That’s one in 20 out of 32 total so you do the math. It took three days to bake the whole log.
  • These never seemed to stop coming, but in the end, we had about 32 normal cookies and 5 or 6 flattened disks of leftover dough.

 

  • Would make again? Nope. Not like this anyway. I’m not even sure how I’m able to talk about this so soon after the tragedy. Maybe when I’m in DC, I’ll try again in the colder, less humid weather.
  • Any changes? So many. Note the taste rating was a 5 because they are very, very good, but there has to be a better way. I may try again and do them like the thumbprints. I’ll try making the thumbprint cookie, filling the thumbprint hole with the filling, and baking them that way. It may work and allow the flavor to still show through, or it may create a new evil cookie demon.
  • Tips? Make the filling for something in your life because it’s quite delicious. Really. I recommend buying the book just for the filling. Here’s the deal; I’m not saying these are inherently bad. I’m saying I failed at them. If you can roll cookies, do this. The flavor is unique and tasty, but if you aren’t a pro or you live in one of the lower circles of hell like I do, avoid this one.

So how about a quick review.

The whole lineup once again.

The dough: absolute success. There’s so much you can do with it, but if you’re not great in the kitchen, I’d recommend going with the simpler things like my streusel cookies or Dorie’s White Chocolate Poppy Seed and avoiding anything that asks you to roll or fill anything.

 

Thanks for hanging the whole way! Can’t wait to hear what you try with these great dough recipes! Share pictures and tips in the comments.

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