Mastering the Cookie with Alice Medrich at Central Market

One of my favorite holiday traditions is baking cookies to pass out to my friends and family around Christmastime. This year, I decided to get a little help along the way by taking a cookie baking class at Central Market. Alice Medrich, dessert goddess extraordinaire, recently published her eighth cookbook, enticingly titled Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies. She dropped by Central Market on Friday night to help us learn how to turn out perfect cookies all through the year.

Medrich chose to focus on cookies because, as she puts it, "Their simplicity is deceptive." Most of the recipes have only five or six ingredients, and she was able to turn out five different varieties in a little more than two hours. But it's this simplicity that can be our undoing if we do not take the time to carefully move through each step correctly.

The number one problem, according to Medrich, is an overabundance of flour, which results in a rock-hard cookie. Her suggestion is to weigh your dry ingredients instead of using measuring cups, so that you end up with more precise results. If you do choose to use a measuring cup, be sure to gently spoon the flour into cup and do not shake it between heaps.

Next, she says to bake on traditional, rimmed aluminum pans. Avoid dark pans, which have a tendency to cause the bottom of the cookie to burn. Finally, she emphasizes the importance of not over-mixing the cookie dough, as this can cause it to get too sticky and dense.

Medrich made decadently rich chocolate brownies; fruity biscotti; spicy ginger snaps; crisp, gooey thin chocolate chunk cookies; and my new favorite recipe, peanut butter clouds, which are fluffy little drops of meringue laced with chunky peanut butter swirls. I truly intended to just sample a bite from each cookie, but by the end of the night my plate was empty and my stomach was a little achey.

Central Market did a lovely job of providing milk, coffee, water, tea and even sparkling wine to imbibe while noshing on our sweets. I had never taken a class there and found myself impressed by all that the $65 fee included. For recipes or more cookie tips, look for Medrich's book, but be warned, the recipes are so simple and the results are so luscious, that you will soon find yourself spending inordinate amounts of time baking cookies. Which is actually a pretty good way to spend an afternoon during the holidays.

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Geri Maria Harris